Flyers can’t handle Hawks’ big girl

The fate of the two teams began to take shape already in the pregame warm-ups.

University of Dayton women’s basketball coach Jim Jabir said he has the same concern before every game, even this year with his nationally-ranked Flyers team: “You’re always anxious about who’s gonna show up for you that day and what we are going to look like.”

Sunday he said his fears were fueled just before UD’s Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinal with Saint Joseph’s: “At some point during warm-ups, my assistants were saying that we were tight. That we looked really nervous.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the Hagan Arena floor — which is Saint Joseph’s home court — Chatilla van Grinsven, the Hawks’ 6-foot-3, all-conference first-teamer, was stealing glances in the stands at a woman and especially a man, who looked a bit tired, but was beaming non-stop.

The fifth-year senior made eye contact more than once with her mom and dad — Berdie van Grinsven and Rahal Frikh — who had just flown in from the Netherlands, which is her home.

“My dad was seeing me play for the first time ever in my college career,” she said afterward. “He’s had health problems and six months ago he had a lung transplant and wasn’t allowed to fly. Every single day I had prayed: ‘Please, just let my dad see me play in college.’

“He had played himself professionally in the Netherlands and France and he taught me to play in the backyard. Since I was little, he was my coach. And when he could tell I was going to be tall, he taught me to post up and dribble and box out. I wanted him to see all that now.

“And then just three days ago the doctors told him he was strong enough to make the trip, so my mom booked the flight. Today, I just wanted to give him something to see.”

Against the Flyers, she certainly did.

She scored 19 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, had five assists, two steals, blocked two shots and forced the Flyers to drastically alter — and miss — maybe a half dozen more.

She’s the biggest reason Saint Joseph’s upset UD, 61-54, and will advance to the A-10 championship game against Fordham next Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the 27-2 Flyers — who were riding a 15-game winning streak after their other upset loss to Bowling Green on Dec. 30 — headed back home to regroup and await their NCAA Tournament bid, which will be their fourth straight.

The UD women have been the talk of the league this season. They have been nationally ranked since late November, they won the A-10 regular-season title with a perfect 14-0 conference record, led the league in eight offensive categories, cleaned up on the league’s postseason awards (six players were honored and Jabir was named the A-10 Coach of the Year) and were one of just three NCAA Division I teams with only one loss.

And then there was their A-10 opener here Saturday. They romped over George Washington, 74-49.

Sunday they looked like a totally different team.

“I’m a little PO’d at the way we lost, really,” said senior point guard Sam MacKay. “We passed up shots, we made turnovers we don’t usually make. There was definitely something going on in our heads that wasn’t right.”

Jabir saw it, too: “You’ve got to give Saint Joe’s a lot of credit. They wanted this game a lot more than we did, it seemed. They were a lot tougher. We looked real timid. They took it to us from the opening tap and we never really had an answer.”

The Flyers never led and at one point late in the first half trailed by 15. Although they did close the deficit to one point — trailing 52-51 after Andrea Hoover hit a jumper with 2:45 left — the Hawks then flexed their muscles once more down the stretch.

Although UD had been down before this season, it always mounted comebacks — except against Bowling Green — to pull out the win.

“When this happened before we always waited for somebody to save us,” said Flyers redshirt senior Brittany Wilson. ‘Today, nobody did.”

For Saint Joe’s though, van Grinsven was a one-woman show at times.

The two teams met a week ago at UD Arena and the Flyers won 73-66, but she was hampered by foul trouble and struggled offensively. Although she again was saddled with four fouls Sunday, she made the most of her time on the court.

“Great players step up in big games and she is a great,” said Hawks coach Cindy Griffin.

Jabir felt the same: “Our coaching staff felt she was going to come out really strong today and she did. She played with a lot of passion, a lot of motivation. She attacked constantly and I’m afraid we didn’t respond very well to that attack.”

Wilson — who came off the bench a week ago and, though undersized at 5-foot-11, stymied van Grinsven — had no such luck when she spelled the Flyers post players Sunday. “She came in and made a statement against us,” Wilson said.

Flyers starting center, 6-3 Cassie Sant agreed: “It definitely was her day… and not ours.”

Hoover and Kelley Austria led the Flyers with 11 points each. But UD was beaten on the boards (42-32), had more turnovers (16-12) and saw several of its stars struggle in crucial moments.

Afterward though, Jabir tried to lift his team: “In the locker room I told the kids I wasn’t crushed. I knew we’d lose at some point, but the thing is I don’t like to lose like this.”

As to why his young team faltered, he wasn’t sure: “It’s funny as the season goes on. Every win you get creates as little more expectation, a little more pressure. And each game you get every other team’s best shot.

“I give our kids credit for facing that adversity every day and handling it pretty well. I love this team and now we’ve just got to do what we’ve always done. All season our approach has been to analyze it, dissect it, fix it and go back out and get better.”

Senior forward Olivia Applewhite thinks this loss could come with a positive:

“This will be motivation for the NCAA Tournament. We want to try to make a run and get out of the first weekend. If we do that, then this game won’t seem so bad.”

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