The Dayton Flyers turned the clock back to October in practices last week as they prepared for the NCAA women’s tournament. Preseason practices often have a sharper edge because teams need to get ready for the competitive grind of the four months ahead. That’s what Dayton wanted to rekindle after losing to George Washington in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
“We’ve just been focusing on competing and getting up and down,” senior guard Jenna Burdette said. “We’ve honestly been going at each other. It’s been fun. It’s helped us get our motivation back.”
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For nine days, Dayton could focus only on itself because it didn’t know for sure if it would play in the NCAA tournament and had no idea who it would play if it was selected.
The wait ended Monday night. Dayton (23-6) received a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 seed Marquette (23-9) at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. The winner will play No. 1 seed Louisville (32-2) or No. 16 seed Boise State (23-9) on Sunday at a time to be announced.
Dayton coach Shauna Green, whose team arrived in Louisville on Wednesday, doesn’t know if the changes she made to practice will lead to a victory, but she felt they were needed. She couldn’t risk an injury by asking the players to compete hard in practice during the season when they were playing two games a week.
This year, four of the five starters average between 32 and 35 minutes per game. In close games, some players don’t leave the court. Burdette and Lauren Cannatelli played all 40 minutes in both A-10 tournament games. Cannatelli has played every minute of the last four games.
Green didn’t want to wear them down in practice. The long break after the A-10 tournament gave her the option to do just that without fear of them not being ready for the NCAA tournament.
“With this last week, I just felt we had lost that competitive edge, so we’ve been competing non-stop,” Green said. “Everything we do is competitive. We’ve been playing five-on-five, keeping score. Losers run.”
Green said her team is in a good place mentally and physically as it prepares to play in the NCAA tournament for the second season in a row and eighth time in nine years.
“The vibe feels like it’s October,” Green said. “That’s the vibe in practice. It’s fresh. It’s new energy.”
The matchup with Marquette is an interesting one in part because of both programs’ ties to Jim Jabir. Before coaching at Dayton from 2003-16, Jabir spent six seasons at Marquette (1990-96). He took the Golden Eagles to the NCAA tournament twice. Terri Mitchell followed Jabir with a successful 18-year run that included seven NCAA appearances.
Carolyn Kieger took the reins in 2014 and has guided Marquette back to prominence after two losing seasons. The Golden Eagles finished 9-22, then 14-16 and 25-8 last season. They won the Big East championship for the first time this season.
Marquette features an offense that ranks tied for 17th in the country in scoring (80.3 points per game). The roster is heavy on juniors. All five starters are juniors. The only senior on the team plays 7.3 minutes per game.
Green said Monday she had watched Marquette on television quite a bit this season.
“They play really fast,” she said. “They’re similar to us. It’s going to be a track meet. They’re a really good team. They’re well coached. She’s a young coach who has taken over and really turned them around. They have some great athletes. It’ll be a fun game to watch for the fans for sure.”