The entire Dayton women’s basketball team crowded into one corner of their locker room at the Times Union Center on Saturday for a group photo.
A week earlier, they posed for a selfie after beating No. 2 seed Kentucky 99-94 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. There were selfies going on within that selfie. There is March Madness and March joy. The photo captured both.
In the latest photo, taking moments after an 82-66 victory over No. 3 seed Louisville, the happy Flyers screamed and celebrated together, knowing they would get a chance to create an even more lasting image at 7 tonight when they play No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Elite Eight.
The Huskies (35-1) are the two-time defending national champions. From all appearances, they look unbeatable. Almost every sentence in the notes package given to the media speaks to that fact.
The No. 7 seed Flyers (28-6) hope to prove everyone wrong. They’re not supposed to be here. They’re not supposed to beat the Huskies. That doesn’t mean they don’t think they can win.
“People say they have a 20-point lead just because of the uniform they wear,” senior forward Ally Malott said Sunday. “I don’t think you can go into any game you play with that mindset.”
Dayton awoke Sunday morning as the last Cinderella in the dance. No. 11 seed Gonzaga lost 73-69 in overtime to No. 2 seed Tennessee on Saturday night, leaving four No. 1 seeds, three No. 2 seeds and No. 7 seed Dayton in the NCAA tournament.
Senior guard Andrea Hoover said the team thrives in the underdog role. They’ll never be a bigger underdog than tonight. Here’s what Dayton is up against:
• Connecticut leads the nation in scoring margin (42.5 points per game). That’s nearly double the second-best team in the country.
• Connecticut has won 82 straight games against unranked opponents, though the voters obviously made a mistake in not ranking the Flyers.
• The Huskies are 15-5 in Elite Eight games. They’re 9-0 in the national championship game.
If there’s a silver lining for the Flyers in this matchup, it’s the Huskies play a similar fast-paced style. Connecticut leads the nation in scoring (90.2 points per game). Dayton ranks 13th (76.7).
“I think the smart money would be to kind of play like Villanova does and slow it down and try to use all the shot clock, but we don’t play that way,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. “We’re going to try to defend, and when we have opportunities to score, we’re going to try to get out and run and just be smart and try to press as much as we can offensively, pushing and creating tempo.
“Conversely, we have to get back. We have to slow them down as best we can. They can’t get layups and wide-open 3s out of transition. If we can do those things, then that’ll be a good thing for the good guys.”
Connecticut finished 40-0 a year ago and brings a 34-game winning streak into this game. The Huskies also have a healthy amount of respect for the Flyers.
“They play a style of play that’s really fun to watch,” Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma said. “They’re fearless. They’re not intimidated by anyone or anything.”