By: Steve Miller – Asst. Sports Editor
“The goal all along has been the Sweet Sixteen,” head coach Jim Jabir reminded the UD women’s basketball team before their second-round game against the University of Kentucky on Sunday.
Consider the mission accomplished.
Overcoming foul trouble with stellar free-throw and three-point percentages, the seventh-seeded Flyers knocked off second-seeded Kentucky in the most monumental game in Dayton women’s basketball history thus far.
This marks the first time in program history that the women’s team has advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. It was the sixth straight year, however, that UD appeared in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
The journey started Friday for the Flyers, when they took on the tenth-seeded Iowa State University Cyclones at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky.
Playing to their size advantage, UD controlled the tempo for the entirety of the game.
Senior guard Andrea Hoover led the UD with 20 points as the Flyers knocked off the Cyclones 78-66.
Four Flyers scored in double digits, including senior forward Ally Malott, who recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
The win advanced the Flyers to the second round against second-seeded Kentucky—a veritable home game for UK in Lexington.
“We played Kentucky two years ago, and they have a lot of lengthy kids that like to get to the rim,” Hoover said before the second round matchup, contrasting Kentucky’s style to the less-physical tempo set by Iowa St.
Commentators on ESPN remarked before the game about Dayton’s gritty style, and speculated a close contest.
The Flyers hit a roadblock early on after Andrea Hoover collected two fouls and departed for the bench, remaining there for much of the first half. But Dayton’s deep team more than made up for the lack of Hoover’s presence by knocking down five three point field goals in the first seven minutes of the contest. They jumped out to a 20-11 lead.
The Wildcats stormed back, however, turning up their defensive pressure to force several key Flyer turnovers. Kentucky built up a nine-point lead in the closing minutes of the opening period.
Dayton battled back resiliently, though. The Flyers chipped away at the UK advantage, and junior guard Amber Deane capped the run with a three pointer to close out the half—UD’s sixth three-pointer of the game. At the break, the score stood 45-42 in favor of Kentucky.
Three minutes into the second half, junior center Jodie Cornelie-Sigmundova drained two jump shots within 20 seconds of each other, tying the score at 48.
Leading the way for Kentucky, sophomore guard Makayla Epps controlled the tempo for the Wildcats’ offense, building a 62-54 lead for UK with 12 minutes remaining.
Just after the nine-minute mark, Andrea Hoover was charged with her fifth foul of the game, and left the contest for good with her team trailing 72-69.
Freshman guard Jenna Burdette and Cornelie-Sigmundova were also in foul trouble at the time, and ended up fouling out before the game’s conclusion.
After Hoover’s departure, Ally Malott assumed the leadership, putting the team on her back en route to a thrilling second half.
Malott scored 28 points in the game and added 13 rebounds in her eighth double-double of the season.
However, the Flyers remained in the game in large part due to their success, and Kentucky’s lack of success, at the free-throw line.
Dayton converted each of its first 11 free throw attempts of the second half and hit 28 of 31 on the afternoon, good for a 90 percent rate.
At the other end of the court, Kentucky made just 24 of 38 attempts—a 63 percent mark.
Capitalizing on free throws and Kentucky turnovers, UD built the pressure in the closing minutes of the second half. The two teams traded buckets and turnovers up until the one-minute mark, when Kelly Austria made possibly the biggest shot of her year.
Austria sank a 3-pointer from the corner on an assist from senior guard Tiffany Johnson. It was her third triple of the game.
With 24 seconds remaining, Amber Deane converted another 3-pointer for the Flyers, all but putting the game on ice.
The Flyers were 11 for 18 from beyond the arc—a 61% success rate.
A few fouls and converted free throws later, Dayton emerged victorious 99-94, advancing to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in program history.
Jim Jabir was estatic with the victory, finally breaking through the round of 32.
“Couldn’t be more proud. We had so many contributors today,” he said in the postgame press conference. “Our team is very, very resilient. They really believed that we could win this game and we’ve worked really hard to put them in a place where mentally they believed they could.”
The seniors on the team, Malott, Hoover and Johnson, will play once more for UD.
“I just came out really aggressive like Coach Jabir told me,” Malott said. “Every time we needed a bucket, somebody contributed and we got contributions from everyone. Everyone did their job.”
“I kept telling [the seniors] this wouldn’t be their last game,” Deane said.
UD will go on to play the winner of Monday’s game between third-seeded University of Louisville and sixth-seeded University of South Florida. The Sweet Sixteen matchup will take place Saturday in Albany, New York.
“I’m happy for the University of Dayton, our coaches,” Jabir said, “It’s a great day to be a Flyer.”