One sentence in black marker adorned the dry-erase board in the Dayton Flyers’ locker room at the Times Union Center.
“Choice not chance,” it read. “Determine your destiny!”
Underneath that, in blue ink, one word said everything: “#D8YTON.”
A sweet week turned elite Saturday for the Dayton women’s basketball team. Six days after upsetting No. 2 seed Kentucky 99-94 in Lexington, Ky., the No. 7 seed Flyers routed No. 3 seed Louisville 82-66 in the third round of the NCAA tournament to reach the Elite Eight for the first time.
Dayton (28-6) can’t say it eliminated the state of Kentucky from the tournament all by itself because Western Kentucky lost to Texas in the first round, but it won a state championship of sorts in the Bluegrass State with the two biggest victories in the program’s history.
“Is there anyone else from Kentucky we can beat?” a Dayton fan shouted from the stands in the final moments of the game Saturday.
A different state awaits the Flyers in the regional final. No. 1 seed Connecticut, the two-time defending champion, beat No. 5 seed Texas 105-54 in the first regional semifinal Saturday. Dayton and Connecticut (35-1) will play at 7 p.m. Monday in Albany with a spot in the Final Four in Tampa, Fla., on the line.
That monumental challenge can wait. In the immediate aftermath of the victory over Louisville, Dayton coach Jim Jabir could only smile and rejoice in becoming the seventh team in Atlantic 10 history to reach the Elite Eight.
“This is a great day,” Jabir said. “I want to say I’m overwhelmed, but I’m not. Our guys have continually stepped up and matured and handled themselves better and better with every challenge, and the challenges keep getting bigger and bigger.”
A close game turned Dayton’s way for good in the final eight minutes. The Flyers led 55-53 when senior forward Ally Malott converted a three-point play. That started a 13-0 Dayton run over the next four minutes.
The Flyers pulled away by limiting turnovers. They had 14 before halftime and five in the second half. They threw two passes that were so far off the mark in the first half, Jabir wondered if they were mistaking the Louisville Cardinal mascot for a teammate. Still Dayton led 30-29 at halftime.
In the second half, guard Amber Deane said, “We just had to have a smart mindset and try to control the ball and not waste any possessions, but also not defer from being assertive and as aggressive as possible because that’s the way we play.”
Deane scored all 15 of her points in the second half, many on difficult drives to the basket. Andrea Hoover led the Flyers with 26 points. Jodie Cornélie-Sigmundová had a strong all-around game: 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
The Flyers never got the 3-point shot going and finished 2 of 10 from long range, but showed they can win in many ways. They shot 58 percent inside the arc (25 of 43) and 86.7 percent (26-30) at the free-throw line.
“I thought the Kentucky game was the best day,” Jabir said. “Now I think that this is the best day. We rose to the occasion.”
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