Above: Dayton Flyers celebrate advancing to the Sweet 16. (Courtesy University of Dayton Athletics)
They’ve never been here before, but the players on the Dayton women’s basketball team feel like they should have.
A second-round loss in the 2013 NCAA Tournament and an 83-69 loss to No. 11 seed Florida in last year’s first round as a No. 6 seed — the highest in school history — dropped the Flyers to a low point.
A year later, No. 7-seeded Dayton (27-6) is flying high after upsetting No. 2 seed Kentucky, 99-94, on Sunday and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time.
“This feels really great,” Flyers senior Ally Malott told the Dayton Daily News after scoring a team-high 28 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. “We set this goal after our loss (to Florida) last year. We all wanted it really bad.”
Flyers coach Jim Jabir, who went 3-25 in his first season at Dayton in 2003-04, has guided Dayton to six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and eight consecutive 20-win seasons. A victory Saturday would match the team record set in 2012-13. Those Flyers went 28-3, won the first Atlantic 10 championship in team history and beat No. 10 St. John’s, 96-90, in the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
In the second round, the Flyers lost to No. 2 seed Kentucky, 84-70. Two years later, Dayton turned the tables on the Wildcats led by Malott, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer this season.
Andrea Hoover, the fifth-leading scorer in Dayton history with 1,809 points, leads the Flyers with 17.3 points per game this season. She was held to five points against Kentucky but was nominated this week for the WBCA Division I Coaches’ All-America Team (along with conference rival Jonquel Jones of George Washington).
The Flyers, who reached the round of 32 with a 73-66 victory over No. 10 Iowa State on Friday night, play No. 3 Louisville (27-6) on Saturday in an Albany Regional semifinal. The Cardinals, who are making their sixth appearance in the Sweet 16, advanced with a 60-52 victory over South Florida on Monday night.
Louisville is one of five schools with both men’s and women’s teams in the Sweet 16, including Duke, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Notre Dame.