ALBANY, N.Y. – Coach Jim Jabir and his Dayton Flyers played UConn four years ago in the Huskies’ Thanksgiving tournament.
They lost by 40 but came away with an understanding of what it took to be an elite program in women’s college basketball.
Now Jabir has the Flyers on an improbable run, one victory away from reaching the school’s first Final Four.
“We spent an hour and a half in the locker room after the game talking about what we saw,” Jabir said. “Because everything they did was so much quicker, so much faster and so much stronger.
“They executed so, so well and it changed our season. It turned our season around. So I have utmost respect for their program, and I’m excited about the challenge. I really, really am.”
Standing in the way is Connecticut, a team looking for its eighth straight trip to the national semifinals and a third consecutive championship.
The two teams will play tonight in the Albany Regional final.
“Everyone is kind of impressed with their offense, the thing I remember most is how hard it was to score on them,” Dayton senior Ally Malott said. “Their defense is so disciplined. I’m excited to have an opportunity to play them again and we’re a different team now.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma remembers a time when his team was similar to Dayton’s. The Huskies were the underdog in 1991. They hadn’t won any of their nine national championships yet and had never even made it to the Final Four. But with a talented mix of juniors and seniors, UConn made a run to the national semifinals.
“It was our first time ever in the regionals and we won,” Auriemma said. “I remember being in Dayton’s shoes and really being anxious to play N.C. State and Clemson. I thought we were a better team even though they had bigger names and better players. I thought we were the better team. They are exactly in the situation we were in.”
While it makes for a nice comparison, the Flyers are going to have to find a way to slow down a UConn team that has steamrolled through its opponents, including a record 51-point win in the Sweet 16 over Texas.
“This is the position we want to be in,” said Breanna Stewart, who had 31 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in the win over Texas. “There’s still another game to be played and we’re not looking ahead to the Final Four. Dayton’s a good scrappy team that everyone has looked off.”
Here are a few other tidbits from the Albany Regional final:
Looking for that ‘W’
Jabir was winless in eight games against UConn when he was head coach at Providence from 1996-2002. The Friars lost by an average of 43 points, including a 78-point defeat in 1998.
“We had just won this big game against Pitt and I lost my best player to an ankle,” Jabir recalled of the monumental loss. “That same day UConn lost to Tennessee on national TV and I think we lost by 69 (it was actually 78), I’m not sure. And so any answer I give you still has that hangover.”
UConn’s Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis is just five 3-pointers away from the NCAA record held by Laurie Koehn of Kansas State and Heather Butler of UT-Martin. They both hit 392.
100 and counting
Auriemma became the second coach to win 100 games in the NCAA tournament, joining Pat Summitt. Auriemma, who is 100-17 in his NCAA career, stands 12 wins behind the former Tennessee coach’s total.