Joe Dodson, Staff Writer
Women’s basketball is heading to its third-straight Atlantic 10 championship game after knocking top-seeded Dayton 56-50 Saturday afternoon at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.
The Rams lost to the Flyers in the last two A-10 title games. This year is only the second time Dayton has not reached the finals since 2017.
The game had 15 lead changes and was a close rebounding battle, with just one rebound separating the teams. Both teams had cold shooting stretches; VCU ended the game shooting 36.5% from the floor while Dayton shot 35.8%.
“I don’t think we’ve had a game that hasn’t been close in the last couple years,” coach Beth O’Boyle said. “We really talked about ‘hey, this is gonna take 40 minutes of us playing hard.’”
VCU set the defensive intensity early, holding Dayton over five minutes without scoring in the first quarter. During the run, the Flyers missed 10 straight shots, shooting just 25% through the first quarter.
“We wanted to make sure we dictated the pace of the game,” O’Boyle said. “For us that starts on the defensive side.”
Senior guard Taya Robinson got four of her career-high seven steals in the first quarter. The Rams caused 15 Flyer turnovers and ended the game with 11 total steals. Robinson said communication was the key on defense.
“It was a lot talking and staying together,” VCU’s All-Conference defensive team selection said.
In the second quarter, Dayton’s Mariah Perez blocked sophomore forward Chloe Bloom’s shot from behind and passed it to Jenna Giancone for an open layup to stretch Dayton’s lead to 16-10.
After not scoring any triples as a team in the first quarter, freshman guard Sarah Te-Biasu knocked down consecutive 3-pointers, four minutes into the second quarter to spark a 16-2 run.
“When she’s out there, good things happen for us because you know that shot, that three-point shot, everyone on the team thinks it’s going in right when it goes out of her hands,” O’Boyle said.
Te-Biasu, along with senior guard Tera Reed, linked up for five straight baskets to jump VCU out to a 32-26 lead heading into halftime. The team improved from 16% shooting from the floor in the first quarter to 68% in the second.
“We just saw the lanes,” Reed said. “We started passing the ball a bit more, Sarah hit some threes and I think it just took us a little bit longer than usual to get into the flow of the game.”
At halftime, the Rams narrowly led the rebounding battle 19 to 18. Reed and Te-Biasu led the scoring with 8 points each.
Te-Biasu and Robinson recorded back-to-back 3-pointers to end a two minute VCU scoring drought in the start of the third quarter. Te-Biasu finished 3-5 from the perimeter, and Robinson now has 10 triples so far in the tournament.
Perez, Dayton’s primary post defender, sat most of the third quarter with foul trouble. When Perez checked back in, VCU was held without a point for three minutes to end the third quarter with a narrow 43-42 lead.
Giancone opened the fourth quarter with three straight makes from the floor, she ended the night with a team-high 16 points.
Robinson responded with her fourth bucket of the afternoon — a step-back jumper to give VCU a 49-48 lead with five minutes left to play. VCU held Dayton four minutes without scoring to stretch out to a 52-48 lead with two minutes left to play.
VCU called a timeout after Dayton’s Tenin Magasse attempted a turnaround jump shot that fell with a minute left. VCU led by two points with 25 seconds remaining; Giancone fouled Robinson and sent her to the free-throw line where she sank both, stretching the lead to four.
“It’s just keeping our composure,” Reed said. “Knowing that anything can happen you know, it’s March.”
Dayton was held to eight points in the final quarter and went 1-8 on their last nine attempts from the floor.
“Coach has been telling us one of our focuses for this game was to keep playing hard until the buzzer sounds,” Reed said.
The women’s team joins the men’s team in A-10 championship games on Sunday, as the men will play against St. Bonaventure in Dayton.
“Fight and smile, that’s what we’re doing, both of us going after that championship,” O’Boyle said. “There’s nothing better than seeing us both cut down the nets.”
VCU will face the winner of Saint Louis and UMass in the A-10 Championship Sunday at noon. The game will be televised on ESPNU.