Halfway around the world from Buffalo, Cierra Dillard received a notification that University at Buffalo guard Dyaisha Fair had scored 40 points in one game, and had one immediate thought.
“My first response, truly, is '50 is next,’ ” Dillard told The News in an email this week. “She’s a talented player and scorer, and I saw it when she was 16 years old in Rochester, and to see her continue her success at Buffalo, I’m very proud. Not only for Buffalo, but for Rochester.”
Dillard now plays for Yalova Vip, a women’s professional team in Turkey, and before last week, she was the only player in UB women’s basketball’s Division I history to score at least 40 points in a game.
Fair became the second, and the UB junior is now part of a select local sorority. Fair is one of nine Big 4 women’s basketball players to score 40 points in a game, according to record books from UB, Niagara, Canisius and St. Bonaventure. Dillard was the last Big 4 women’s player to score 40 points in a game with 43 points in a 91-84 win Jan. 9, 2019, at Eastern Michigan.
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It’s not an easy task. As many of the players who have done it can attest, it’s not something any player goes into a game planning to do. For many who have done it, they’re so locked into the process of playing in a game, that they don’t realize they’ve reached that threshold until late in the game or after a game.
“I don’t really have knowledge of things like that until people mention it to me or ask me about it,” said Fair, who is fourth in the nation in scoring, averaging 23.6 points per game. “But it’s a great thing to be a part of, it’s a great thing to accomplish and something to keep the knowledge of, in your career, and something to add onto.
“It’s another brick in my wall that I’m building, in my steps to get to where I want to be. The more I accomplish, the more my team will get the residuals.”
How they did it
In January 2019, Dillard didn’t realize she was about to set a program record until she looked up at the scoreboard at the Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich., and saw her stat line.
“I said, 'Ayyooo, Coach, I have 40!’ ” Dillard recalled. “But (UB coach Felisha Legette-Jack) said, ‘Stay focused.’ I was so focused on getting the win and just focused on helping the team get a score, I didn’t know. It was a close game, very high intensity, and went to overtime.”
Dillard was one of two players that night to score at least 40 points, as Eastern guard Danielle Minot finished with 43.
“If you’re a talented scorer, in a groove and play to your strengths, you can score 40,” Dillard said. “The best thing or particular key about scoring at a high clip is when your team knows you’re hot or in a groove, and continue to do whatever to help you make a play, whether it’s a great screen, pass, catch and finish to keep the defense honest.”
Niagara’s Pamela Lee was the first Big 4 women’s player to score 40 points in a game, scoring 43 against Siena on Feb. 12, 1983, less than a year after the NCAA sponsored its first women’s basketball tournament.
Sue Shay Danielewicz became the second, when, as a freshman, she scored 40 points in St. Bonaventure’s 86-80 loss to Saint Joseph’s on Feb. 11, 1989.
“When we played Saint Joseph’s that night, my teammates were joking with me and saying, ‘Wow, you must have a radar for the basket!’ ” said Danielewicz, who is now a fourth-grade teacher in Lebanon, Pa. “We lost the game, but it was a moral victory, to show the Atlantic 10 that St. Bonaventure was an up-and-coming team.”
Danielewicz’s 40-point game also validated her confidence in competing at the college level. She is Bona’s career leading rebounder (952) and is third in career scoring (1,874 points).
“I’d started off very strong at St. Bonaventure and it was kind of just what I was doing, all along, in practice,” she said. “When I was recruited, a lot of teams said I might be too small inside or not fast enough to play at guard, but I knew in my mind, and St. Bonaventure knew, that I could do well and play at this high a level of college basketball.”
A year later, Kim Kuhn Exler tied Niagara’s single-game scoring record of 43 points in a 104-89 loss on Feb. 24, 1990, at Holy Cross. Exler still rues the fact that her family wasn’t there to see it. Her mother, father and aunt traveled to every game of hers, but could not travel from Pittsburgh to central Massachusetts because of a snowstorm.
But nearly 32 years later, she also remembers that she was in a certain frame of mind: “I was in the zone.”
“You just felt it,” said Exler, now a first-grade teacher in the Pittsburgh suburbs. “I couldn’t miss that night, and I think I was 10 for 15 on 3-pointers in that game.
“I have no idea how I did it. I’m a very competitive and pretty determined person, even to this day. And as I’m saying this, my mom is sitting next to me, nodding. Just with everything I’ve done, I knew I wanted it, while we were playing. I wanted the ball because I knew I could do something with it.”
Heather Fiore DiBiase scored at least 40 points in a game twice in the span of four days in January 1997, her senior year at Canisius.
DiBiase scored 46 points in a 109-104 loss Jan. 19, 1997, at Saint Peter’s, which at the time made her Canisius’ career leading scorer. (Shauna Geronzin Green, now the head women’s basketball coach at Dayton, is now Canisius’ leading scorer with 2,012 points, including a 42-point game on Feb. 20, 2000, against Niagara.)
Three nights later, DiBiase scored 42 points in a 114-106 win against Colgate at the Koessler Athletic Center.
“I knew I needed 20 points to break the scoring record, and I was averaging maybe 18 a game,” said DiBiase, who scored 1,949 points in four seasons at Canisius. “I didn’t want to know at the time, but I knew I was close, and it was a little out of reach for that game (against Saint Peter’s), but our next game was a home game. That would have meant a lot for me to break the record at Canisius.
“But I had no idea that I’d scored that many until the game was over, and my parents were there.”
After the loss at Saint Peter’s, her mother asked her how many points she scored, but DiBiase was still so focused on the fact that her team had lost in overtime.
Her mother was quick to draw a silver lining.
“You scored 46 points.”
That remains a record today at Canisius, and among the Big 4’s 40-point scorers.
'It's never a plan for it to happen'
Last week at Bowling Green, UB’s roster was depleted due to Covid-19 issues and injuries. Fair, though, knew what her responsibilities were on the court, how to read the defense as the game unfolded and knew not to get discouraged by mistakes or missed shots.
“Most players don’t go out with the thought that they’re going to score 40 points,” said DiBiase, now a high school physical education teacher and the girls basketball coach at Colonie Central High School in Albany. “I’m sure she felt exactly how I did, that she is doing whatever she can do to help the team. If you have open shots, you take them. You do whatever you can to help your team be successful, and if it happens that you score 40 points, it’s surprising to anyone that does it. It’s not something you set out to do.
“You find out about it after it happens.”
Fair was 14 for 22 from the floor, including 6 for 10 on 3-pointers, and was 6 for 8 on free throws. Yet she didn’t realize she was about to reach the 40-point mark until her final appearance at the free throw line with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter, and her teammates on the court and on the bench were telling her, “One shot, that’s all you need!”
Fair made one free throw.
“It’s never a plan for it to happen, but when you have to do what you need to do for success for your team, you find out afterwards,” said Fair, who on Tuesday was named the Mid-American Conference’s women’s player of the week.
Something about Fair’s performance must have motivated Dillard, too. She scored 41 points in Yalova Vip’s 61-57 overtime win against Tarsus in the Turkish Women’s Basketball League, three days after Fair’s 40-point effort at Bowling Green.
“To see Dyaisha come in and continue the success there, it makes me proud and honored to be an alum,” Dillard said.
Big 4 women’s basketball players who have scored 40 points in a game
• Dyaisha Fair, University at Buffalo: 40 points, Jan. 5, 2021 vs. Bowling Green
• Cierra Dillard, UB: 43 points, Jan. 19, 2019 vs. Eastern Michigan
• Victoria Rampado, Niagara: 41 points, Jan. 7, 2018 vs. Siena
• Shauna Geronzin Green, Canisius: 42 points, Feb. 20, 2000 vs. Niagara
• Heather Fiore DiBiase, Canisius: 42 points, Jan. 22, 1997 vs. Colgate
• Heather Fiore DiBiase, Canisius: 46 points, Jan. 19, 1997 vs. Saint Peter's
• Alisa Robinson, Canisius: 44 points, Feb. 27, 1990 vs. La Salle
• Kim Kuhn Exler, Niagara: 43 points, Feb. 24, 1990, vs. Holy Cross
• Alisa Robinson, Canisius: 40 points, Jan. 26, 1989 vs. Niagara
• Sue Shay Danielewicz, St. Bonaventure: 40 points, Feb. 11, 1989 vs. Saint Joseph's
• Pamela Lee, Niagara: 43 points, Feb. 12, 1983 vs. Siena
Source: UB, Niagara, St. Bonaventure and Canisius athletic department record books