MacKay got in a different mindset this season.
Dayton Athletics

Dayton women’s basketball team will be making its’ fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance this year, but head coach Jim Jabir isn’t sure the Flyers would be back in the postseason without senior point guard Sam MacKay.

After losing seven seniors – including four starters -- from last year’s Atantic-10 Conference Tournament Championship team and adding six freshmen to the roster, the Flyers were in need of some leadership. 

“At the end of last year, we had six returners,” MacKay said.  “All of us were on the same page. What we wanted was to not have a rebuilding year. We wanted to stay together and help the six freshmen in their transition.”

But MacKay had spent most of her first three seasons in Jabir’s doghouse for her flashy play. She had played in 84 games in her first three seasons, but never started. She averaged 10.9 minutes per game, contributing 3.1 points per game, and turning the ball over (149) almost as many times as she was credited with an assist (161). 

“As Coach Jabir says, I always went for the home run instead of just trying to get on base with my passes,” MacKay said. “I was a liability on the floor defensively and I wasn’t taking care of the ball, so it was really hard for him to put me on the floor.”

If she wanted to play more and contribute to her team’s success, MacKay knew it was time to buckle down, work harder and listen to her coach. After last season, she immediately began working on her conditioning and losing some extra pounds. 

“I got into a different mindset,” MacKay said.  “I wasn’t going to be able to criticize or instruct our freshmen if I wasn’t able to do the workouts or succeed in those workouts.  I spent the last most of school and the summer doing everything possible to make sure I was on top of my game physically and emotionally.”

MacKay spent the summer in Philadelphia staying with her father, and surrounding herself with other Division I athletes.

“It’s a different pressure there [than home],” Mackay said.  “The pressure wasn’t to go out … the pressure was to go work out. It made it very easy for me to stay on track. It was probably the most fun summer I’ve ever had.”

Jabir took note of MacKay’s commitment to improving her conditioning, but said, “That was the easy part.” 

In the first three years of MacKay’s career, the relationship between coach and player was a little rocky.  Jabir wanted MacKay to play better defensively and cut down on the turnovers. 

“She was always trying to get a crowd reaction,” Jabir said.  “She was always trying to thread the needle or getting too deep on her drives. There were way too many turnovers and she wasn’t being responsible with the ball.”

In past years, Jabir had Patrice Lalor to play at point guard, and MacKay would find herself on the bench.

“I don’t know if I necessarily understood that at the time, and I think that’s probably why it was so hard for me,” MacKay said. “Coach Jabir would lay into me in practice and in games … my leash was very, very short.”

But this year, Lalor was lost to graduation and a freshman point guard left the program during the summer. It was MacKay’s turn to step up and start being more careful with the basketball. Jabir’s constant preaching of efficiency finally sunk in and MacKay has developed into one of the most reliable point guards in the nation, leading the Flyers to a 27-2 record, including a perfect 14-0 mark in Atlantic-10 regular season play.

MacKay ranks 33rd in the nation with a 1.97 assist to turnover ratio (146 assists/74 turnovers), and has contributed 5.0 assists and 10.3 points per game, earning third team All-Atlantic-10 honors. 

“I think Sam has finally played the way I wanted her to play with a greater focus on being efficient rather than being fancy,” Jabir said. “She’s a pretty stubborn kid and had a different agenda the first couple of years. Now, she’s hemmed it in and playing the way we want her to play.”

“I’ve always [been] a little bit of a show-off,” MacKay said.  “I [wanted] to throw a home run pass or thread the needle and get it in there.  I [saw] a lot more than probably what I [could] do. When I see a seam that I know the ball can get through, now I think ‘that’s probably too dangerous right now’ or ‘I’ll do that next time.’ I’m trying to be efficient. Coach Jabir talks to me about efficiency a lot, and that I can get seven assists without throwing a home run pass and win, and that’s all that matters.”

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Championship Information

Dayton has compiled a 27-2 record, marking the sixth consecutive 20-plus win season for the program.  The Flyers’ 27 victories are the most since the program moved to Division I. On the merits of the team’s success, Jabir was named one of four finalists for the 2013 Naismith Women’s College Coach of the Year Award. 

“I don’t think the success we’ve had this season happens without Sam and I can say that with a great deal of certainty,” Jabir said. “She gets us into our offense. She distributes the ball quickly and smoothly without a lot of errors and turnovers. She’s involving her team so much more now, and doing it in a less flashy way, but it is more functional. She’s not over-dribbling or over-penetrating. Those things are really important when you look at our scoring. We have four kids averaging about 10 or 11 points, and we’re averaging 76 points a game. She’s spreading the ball around and making us harder to cover.”

Dayton rose to as high as No. 12 in the national rankings at the end of the regular season, but fell to eventual league champion Saint Joseph’s in the A-10 semifinals on March 10, snapping a 15-game winning streak.

“That’s heavy stuff for a young team,” Jabir said.  “Pressure starts to build. You have a national ranking pinned on your back. People are going to give you their best game every single night. I think that’s hard for any team to handle much less a team that’s the sixth-youngest team in country.”

“I hope [the loss to Saint Joseph’s] is a wake-up call,” MacKay said. “I take full credit for the loss because it starts at the point guard spot and I didn’t do the job I should have done.”

While Dayton did not repeat as A-10 Tournament champions, the Flyers received their highest seed in the NCAA postseason, earning a No. 7 seed. They are looking to bounce back in the first round against No. 10-seeded St. John’s on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.  The game will be held at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y. – St. John’s home court – and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.

“Every time we’ve had that slip, we’ve responded and gotten better,” Jabir said. “I’m hopeful going into the NCAA tournament that we’ll again respond and improve and get better.”