It was a night where the past didn’t matter.
Not for South Carolina’s coach Dawn Staley.
Not for University of Dayton star Jayla Scaife.
And not for the Flyers’ point guard Araion Bradshaw.
Let’s start with the latter since she was involved in a throwback moment at UD Arena Wednesday night.
After No. 6 South Carolina had romped over UD, 75-49, the two teams went through the postgame handshake lines and two of the victorious Gamecock players — Tyasha Harris and Mikiah Herbert Harrigan — as well as all of the team’s assistant coaches, stopped Bradshaw and gave her a hug.
It’s because she once was one of them.
Bradshaw played for South Carolina as a freshman and got in 24 games, including the Gamecocks victory over Mississippi State in the NCAA championship game in 2017.
She transferred to UD after the season, but later was sent her national championship ring.
She told me last year it’s back home, still in its box. She said she’s never put it on.
The past doesn’t matter.
It was the same for Staley, who is no stranger to UD Arena.
“I came in here a lot and lost a lot in this gym,” she said.
That’s when she was the head coach of former A-10 rival Temple. But her memory is a bit selective. Her teams did lose here twice, but they won three times.
This is her 12th season at South Carolina and she’s built a powerhouse women’s program whose teams now have gone to eight straight NCAA Tournaments. Along with winning the national title, they have made another Final Four, advanced once to the Elite Eight and four times to the Sweet 16.
This year she has a young, deep team that features the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation.
And one of those freshmen made it a real homecoming against the Flyers. Zia Cooke. a 5-foot-9 guard from Toledo Rogers High, put on a show. hitting 5-of-6 three pointers and finishing with a game-high 27 points.
A Toledo TV station had come to chronicle her every move and late Wednesday the last people in UD Arena were some two dozen of Cooke’s supporters who posed with her for photo after photo after photo.
Scaife, who has had nights like that, instead found herself in a nightmare Wednesday.
She’s one of the best career field goal shooters on the UD team. She’s a 1,000-point scorer and was just picked to the preseason All Atlantic 10 first team.
Against the Gamecocks she made just 2 of 18 shots. She missed her last 10 attempts and her frustration mounted so much that UD coach Shauna Greene brought her to the bench for the last 12 minutes of the game.
“Those shots were shots she makes a lot of the time, but they just weren’t going in,”” Green said. “I was just hoping one would finally go in so some confidence would come and she could keep going.”
Scaife though wasn’t alone in her shooting woes.
Erin Whalen, a Vanderbilt transfer, and freshman Mariah Perez both went 0 for 8. Kyla Whitehead was 1 for 6 and Bradshaw missed all four of her shots.
For the game, UD shot 22.2 percent (16 of 72) and had a span of 9 minutes, 20 seconds stretching through the first and second quarters where it didn’t score a field goal and missed 13 shots.
“It was the oddest thing,” said diminutive senior guard Shakeela Fowler. “The shoot-around and warmups were really good for us. Everybody was feeling it. We were making shots.
“But soon as the tick came, the total opposite happened. It was crazy. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but shoot and hope.
When things were going the worst for the Flyers, Fowler was a bright spot.
She’s listed at an overblown 5-foot-6, but admits she’s just 5-2. That makes her the third smallest Flyers player in history and yet, one of the gutsiest.
Wednesday night she continually tried to drive into and through the taller South Carolina players. She took charges, dove on the floor for loose balls and provided some of the only backbone for her crumbling team.
“South Carolina is a really good team, but we’re Dayton and we’re known for being tough. Nothing fazes us,” she said. “I wanted to be that example for my teammates. I was not gonna quit, so none of us should bow down. None of us should lay down and roll over for them.”
Fowler finished with 11 points.
UD’s one standout Wednesday night was Jenna Giacone, who came off the bench, made 4 of 6 three pointers and finished with a career-high 18 points.
For Bradshaw – who had played with Harris and Herbert Harrigan, also freshmen on than national championship team – she said there was no sense of nostalgia, no thought of “what-if“ when it came the Gamecocks.
“I tried to treat it as just another game,” she said. “I tried not to think about it. I tried to block it out.”
She had gone to South Carolina out of Tabor Academy south of Boston – where she was rated the No. 32 recruit in the class of 2016 by ESPN’s HoopGurlz – because “it was a good program with a Hall of Fame coach who was a point guard, my position, and their fan base is great. All of that were factors.”,
After her freshman year, there were two other returnees at her position and a Penn State transfer.
“She won a national championship as a freshman,” Staley sad. “But AB was looking for more of an opportunity to play and she found herself a place that could give her a bigger role and she’s done well.”
Bradshaw is getting a degree in civil engineering at UD.
“There were a lot of reasons I left,” Bradshaw said. “I just wanted a change and wanted to be challenged in different ways, including in school. I just wanted to be a better overall person.
“And I realized you don’t have to be in a Power 5 conference to be pushed.
“Here I was going to be around people who wanted to see me get better and believed in me. And in the process I believed in myself.”
She drew on that confidence as he reflected on Wednesday’s crushing loss.
“I don’t think there are many pieces to pick up,” she said. “We just have to continue to remember this is just the start of a long season. This is just game 3 and we’ll be a lot better in March than we are now.”
In other words, the past won’t matter.
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