(Video courtesy of University of Dayton Athletics)
Watching Dayton seemingly come out of nowhere to reach the Elite Eight, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma sees something familiar in the Flyers.
“I remember being in Dayton’s shoes and just really being anxious to play,” said Auriemma, the second coach to win 100 NCAA Tournament games, joining former Tennessee coach Pat Summitt (112) as the only men’s or women’s coaches to reach the milestone.
“It was in 1991, and we came out of nowhere, supposedly nobody knew anything about us. I think we finished the regular season ranked 25th in the country, and we won the Big East Tournament. We had a great mixture of seniors and juniors, and we played a couple teams that every one was convinced were better than us. It was our first time ever that we played in the regionals and we won, we went to the Final Four. …
“We came out of nowhere, and I think it opened a lot of doors for a lot of people. So I think that what’s happening for Dayton, you know a lot of schools in that situation are gonna look around and say, ‘Hey that could be us.'”
It won’t be Dayton this year. The Flyers lost to UConn, 91-70, Monday night in the NCAA Women’s Tournament, but they also accomplished something no other team did this season — leading the Huskies at halftime, 44-43.
That’s more impressive considering the Huskies led by an average of 25 points at halftime this season, according to the FiveThirtyEight blog.
“That was fun, I’m really proud of our guys,” said Flyers coach Jim Jabir. “I think we competed, weren’t intimidated. They’re the best team in the country. For a long time we hung around, and I couldn’t be more proud. This was a great day. …
“We’ll be back here. I can promise you we’ll be back here.”
Dayton (28-7) was flying high after knocking off No. 2 seed Kentucky, 99-94, last Sunday to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time and No. 3 seed Louisville, 82-66, in Saturday’s Albany Regional semifinal to reach the Elite Eight.
And the Flyers held their own against the Huskies in the first half of the Albany Regional final, which saw 15 leads changes and 10 ties. “I’m glad we don’t have to play them again,” Auriemma said after the game.
But No. 1 UConn (36-1), which set the NCAA Tournament record for margin of victory in the regionals with a 105-54 rout of Texas on Saturday, pulled away starting with a 19-5 run to open the second half to reach its eighth consecutive Final Four.
UConn is going for its third consecutive NCAA title while Dayton is going home. Auriemma knows the feeling.
“Winning the final eight game is really hard to do,” he said. “That’s the one that’s the hardest step because you know how close you are. All these other games leading up to Monday night, you’re just playing in the NCAA tournament. I don’t care what your record is, I don’t care what you’ve done leading up to that, it’s the last step before the Final Four.”