NEW YORK (AP) — Dayton won’t be intimidated by Kentucky and its “40 minutes of dread.”
After all, the two teams played a closed scrimmage in the preseason and the Flyers hung tough with the Wildcats.
Yet that game was in October and both teams have improved since then. They will play Tuesday night in the second round of the women’s NCAA tournament with a trip to the Bridgeport Regional semifinals on the line.
“I don’t feel we’re intimidated by them,” Dayton coach Jim Jabir said. “I think it helps we have a certain familiarity with them. It was so long ago. It was good for both teams and we got a lot out of it. I don’t think there’s any awe, oh my god what do we do on Tuesday. They do certain things well and we do certain things well. It will come down to who executes on the court.”
Second-seed Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell downplayed the early season meeting.
“It would be a mistake to take very much from the scrimmage,” he said. “It was real, real early. We didn’t have a lot of things in. It was a long, long time ago.”
Still it could give the young seventh-seeded Flyers confidence since the two schools haven’t met in the regular season since 1997. Especially since the Wildcats love to apply pressure defensively for the entire game.
“Being on the court with them it was an intense tempo of the game,” Dayton guard Sam MacKay said. “We’re not intimidated.”
The winner will face either Delaware or North Carolina on Saturday.
Second-seeded Kentucky (28-5) cruised to the second-round matchup, beating Navy 61-41 in its opener on Sunday. It was a pleasant change for the Wildcats who had won their previous first round games by six, four (in overtime) and six the past three seasons.
The Wildcats hope to get two-time SEC player of the year A’dia Mathies going against Dayton. She was held without a field goal for the first time in her career against Navy. She wasn’t concerned
“I’m not focused about that. There’s nothing I can do about that,” the senior guard said. “It was just one game. One game can’t define me or our season. I’m definitely going to bounce back.”
Kentucky is making its fourth straight trip to the second round of the tournament. The Wildcats have loftier goals hoping to reach the Final Four for the first time in school history.
“The program’s come a long way and made a tremendous amount of progress in the last four years. In the last four years we’ve won twice as many games in the tournament than in our entire history,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to win the NCAA tournament. It’s a difficult way to define a team because of the nature of the tournament. Survive one game and keep going. The NCAA tournament is an outstanding sporting event for drama.”
While Kentucky didn’t have to sweat out the final minutes of its game against Navy, Dayton was involved in a thriller with host St. John’s.
The Flyers (28-2) outlasted the Red Storm 96-90 in double overtime — the longest NCAA tournament game since 2000 when Vanderbilt also beat Kansas in two OTs.
The win was the second for the Flyers in their brief NCAA tournament history. The team first made the NCAAs in 2010 and pulled off a win over TCU. They had lost the past two years in their opening games.
It has been an exceptional season for Dayton. The Flyers won their first Atlantic 10 regular-season title before falling to Saint Joseph’s in the conference tournament semifinals. The team has already surpassed the school record for wins and is in its fourth straight NCAA tournament.
Not bad for a squad that lost a lot to graduation last year and has the sixth youngest roster in the country. The Flyers used a balanced offense that features four players averaging in double figures. Eight different players have led the Flyers in scoring at some point this season.
Despite its lofty record the Flyers were disappointed to get a seven seed. They have been playing with a chip on their shoulder ever since the NCAA bracket was announced last Monday. Despite only losing twice in the regular season, the Flyers were given a seven-seed. Lower than they thought they deserved.
“We wanted to be higher but we weren’t,” MacKay said. “If we keep winning we’ll have to play them eventually so why not second round. We’ve expected the challenge. We weren’t happy about playing St. John’s on their home court. We’re going back to work and will give Kentucky our best shot.