Luke Cyphers 934d

Dayton: 'Nothing to lose' vs. UConn

Women's College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, Dayton Flyers

ALBANY, N.Y. --  At the time of year when we celebrate the cult of the coach, let us now look upon two basketball coaches.

One of them, UConn's Geno Auriemma, is going nowhere, and good for him, because where he sits, there's nowhere to go but down.

Auriemma wins all the time. He should win Monday night when his top-ranked Huskies play seventh-seeded Dayton in the regional final (ESPN/WatchESPN, 7 p.m. ET). He should also win the next game. And the next.

He looks a little bored at the start of his news conferences. He has the best players, and the best team, and he's in the conversation for best coach ever. He just turned 61, and he still has a full head of recruiting-assistant hair. How're things going? How do you think they're going? They're pretty freaking good.

"You just want to play," he said. It was the same thing he said Friday. When a coach wins as often as Auriemma does -- he has amassed 100 victories in the NCAA tournament alone -- there's no doubt the extraneous stuff gets old.

Then there's the other coach, Dayton's Jim Jabir. He's going nowhere but up, no matter what happens Monday. Which is why Jabir and his Flyers are having so much fun right now, despite facing the two-time national champs.

Jabir genuinely enjoys his days on the media room dais, perhaps because it has been such a long climb up there: Buffalo State to Siena to Marquette to Providence to Dayton. Except for that first stop, they were Catholic schools all, which made sense for a kid from Brooklyn's Xaverian High, the alma mater of another guy who liked the 3-point shot, Chris Mullin.

"We are excited to be here," he said. "Still excited to be here."

Jabir eagerly dissects the roots of his Flyers' push-it-and-pump-it style with enthusiasm. As a coach at Marquette he met Valparaiso coach Dave Walters, a disciple of Paul Westhead, whose Loyola-Marymount teams revolutionized offense by running to spots to shoot 3's and chucking with panache. Jabir adopted the Westhead system with his own teams at Marquette in the early 1990s. "We had some great results, but it's very, very extreme, and I had a mortgage and had a couple of kids, and I was worried about keeping a job," he said.

That didn't mean he was going to walk it up the floor. Jabir likes beautiful basketball, and admired the fluidity and finesse of the European game. He fell in love with Mike D'Antoni's fun-and-gun Phoenix Suns teams, which utilized Euro-principles of driving and kicking out to spots around the 3-point arc. "I just thought that was so pretty," he said. His Flyers run like those Suns teams, and Jabir recruits skill more than size, speed or position, preferring versatile players who can create offense from multiple areas on the floor.

"I want five guys on the floor who can pass, shoot and handle it, because that's a tough team to stop," he said. "When you think about pressure, everyone thinks defense, but I think you can apply a lot of pressure offensively, so we're always trying to do that."

They're succeeding, particularly Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott, Ohio kids that Dayton started recruiting in eighth grade. Big-name programs sought the pair, Stanford in Hoover's case, Notre Dame in Malott's, but they stayed close to home to build something. Now the rest of the country has noticed their work, after Malott's 28-point, 13-board explosion against Kentucky and Hoover's 26-point masterpiece against Louisville.

Those viewers noticed Jabir, too, and the rapport the players and coach seem to have. His squad bet him that if they made the Sweet 16, he had to get a tattoo. He thought about pulling down his drawers at a news conference to reveal that he had not yet had the procedure on Friday. On Saturday it appeared Jabir was going under the needle in Albany. But on Sunday Jabir revealed the inking would take place next week in Dayton, assuring the media that it would be at a "reputable" tattoo parlor.

Why the delay? The story was becoming about him, and not his players. And this should be their moment, he said.

Still, the silly saga gave the media something to talk about besides how good UConn is, and in a backward way kept the spotlight on those very players.

In the meantime, Jabir and his team are garnering the respect and attention of their peers, including Auriemma. "I enjoy watching them play," he said. "They are a lot like us."

A team on the rise matters for women's hoops. "I think it's really important for our game," Auriemma said. "In 1991 when we went to the Final Four, no team from the Northeast had been there, and we came out of nowhere."

With both Dayton and Gonzaga making the Sweet 16 for the first time, he said, "A lot of schools in that situation are gonna look around and say, 'Hey, that could be us.'"

Right now, though, the only school in that situation is Dayton. It's new, and a little scary. But the Flyers' fear factor is fading. "We have nothing to lose," Hoover says.

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