Pre-tourney trip to Ohio for UM

By Eli Rosenswaike, Collegian Staff

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In two weeks time, the Massachusetts women’s basketball team (15-12, 5-7 Atlantic 10) will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. But first, UMass must travel to Ohio for tonight’s tilt against the Dayton Flyers (11-16, 6-6 A-10), in a matchup which will largely decide where each team is seeded for the tournament.

With just two games left in the regular season, the Minutewomen trail the Flyers by just one game in the conference standings. The Maroon and White is currently slotted in the eighth position in the conference, but a win tonight would leapfrog them past Dayton.

“I think it’s a real big game,” UMass coach Marnie Dacko said. “We need to finish up strong and play as good of basketball as we’ve played all year. There are really no excuses, the seeding in the tournament is on the line and we need to be thinking about performing for the tournament.”

Dayton comes off a dramatic 78-77 victory over conference foe Saint Joseph’s on Saturday and will be looking to carry that momentum against the Minutewomen. Junior guard Kathy Guin drilled a 3-pointer with just 1.4 seconds remaining to claim the victory. The Flyers have won two consecutive games and are unbeaten in their last three at home.

Despite losing against Xavier on Sunday, Dacko is pleased with the play of her team as of late and is confident heading off to play Dayton.

“We’re coming off of a very strong performance, one of our best ever against Xavier,” she said. “Although we didn’t come up with the win, we played 35 minutes of great basketball. It was the best I’ve seen us play this season.”

UMass holds the edge in the career series between the schools, eight games to four. Dayton has struggled against the Minutewomen on its home floor, falling in all but one of its five matchups at the University of Dayton Arena.

The two teams last met during the 2005-06 season, when Dayton topped UMass, 57-51, at the Mullins Center. The Minutewomen trailed by 13 points in the second half, but rallied to square things up at 51 apiece. But then a 6-0 run sealed the win for the Flyers. UMass finished 0-for-7 from long distance and committed 24 turnovers. Junior captain Kate Mills finished with just five points on 2-for-10 shooting.

Dayton ended last season 17-12, but it’s taken a dramatic step backwards this season, currently standing at 11-16. The Flyers lost five seniors to graduation after last season – including three starters – and have had a difficult time trying to replace their production.

Dayton especially misses the inside presence of Cara Wright, who was an A-10 First Team selection and the only player in the conference to average a double-double. She was named A-10 Player of the Week five times and led the conference in rebounding.

This year’s Dayton squad has only one player – Nikki Oakland – averaging over six rebounds per contest, and its second leading rebounder, Brittany Holterman, is a guard. The Flyers get a majority of their points from starting forwards Oakland and Jennifer Strong – the only two players on the team averaging double figures.

Whether or not their perimeter players are able to knock down outside shots will be the key for the Flyers. Dayton launches triples at a frantic pace, hoisting up 484 on the season, for an average of just fewer than 18 per contest. By contrast, the Minutewomen have attempted only 317.

Although it continues to attempt a remarkable amount of 3-pointers, Dayton doesn’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter, connecting on just 27.5 percent of its shots. Despite the poor percentages, Dacko is mindful that Dayton is capable of catching fire from long range.

“They’re streaky,” she said. “They don’t shoot well on a consistent basis, but at any one point they could go on a run and hit anything they throw up. As poorly as they shoot from the perimeter, they’re not shy, and they just keep chucking them up. We can’t afford to let our guard down.”

Whether or not Dayton is able to knock down its shots will play a large role in who wins on Thursday, and more importantly, who gets a higher seed in the A-10 tournament.

Eli Rosenswaike can be reached at [email protected]