In advance of their trip to the Sweet Sixteen, Andrea Hoover and Ally Malott talked about the experience so far and what's ahead.

Arch: Hoover, Malott propel Flyers to new heights

This is how Andrea Hoover thinks of Ally Malott:

“There’s just always been a connection between us.”

It began in the fall of 2011 when the two joined the Dayton Flyers women’s basketball team as the only freshmen on the roster.

They came from similar backgrounds in southwestern Ohio: the 5-foot-9 Hoover from tiny Spring Valley Academy in Centerville, the 6-foot-4 Malott from Middletown Madison High School.

Both had turned down bigger-name programs to come to Dayton — Malott had offers from the likes of Notre Dame and Purdue; Hoover had drawn interest from Stanford — because they knew their families would be able to more easily follow their games.

And each had big plans for those games.

“When I came here as a freshman, one of the things I wanted to do was to help keep building the program that had been established by previous players,” said Malott, who, like Hoover, is now a senior.

Dayton already had gone to the NCAA Tournament the two years before the pair joined the Flyers, but it had never advanced beyond the first weekend.

“Our goal since we got here was to get to the Sweet 16,” Malott said. “We wanted to help take the program to the next step.”

Over their Dayton careers, the pair has experienced success like no other four-year players in the program’s history.

They have won 101 of the 125 games they’ve played in and their teams have gone to four straight NCAA Tournaments. And for the first time in program history — following the against-all-odds, come-from-behind slugfest of a victory over second-seeded Kentucky on the Wildcats’ home floor Sunday in Lexington — the seventh-seeded, 27-6 Flyers have advanced to the Sweet 16.

They play third-seeded Louisville on Saturday afternoon in Albany, N.Y.

The Flyers are led by Hoover and Malott, who are their two leading scorers and rebounders and together have scored nearly 3,000 career points (Hoover 1,809; Malott, 1,181.)

Both are first-team All-Atlantic 10 players — Hoover for the third year straight, Malott for the second — and both have more than once been named to the league’s All-Academic first team.

“Oh my God they have meant everything to us,” Flyers coach Jim Jabir said Tuesday. “And not just their skill sets on the court, but for the people they are. For their character, their unselfishness, the fact that they’re not prima donnas. It’s been an amazing, amazing four years with them.”

The pair have been roommates all through college. Each says the other is her best friend. And though it might not seem evident at first, with Hoover more in-your-face on the court, Malott more laid back, they say they are a lot alike personality-wise.

“People think we’re a lot different, but not really,” Malott told me recently. “We’re pretty similar. Our moms are always commenting on how much alike we are. Her mom will say she did this or that and my mom will go, ‘Ally did the exact same thing!’ ”

Now I don’t know if they’re so close that they finish each other’s sentences, but after last Sunday, we all know one can finish the game for the other.

With 8:31 left in the Flyers’ second-round NCAA Tournament game with Kentucky, Hoover fouled out and a subsequent Wildcat foul shot put UK up by four.

In times past that would have been the nail in the coffin for UD.

The Cats had a 54-game non-conference home winning streak and two years ago they were the team that knocked UD out of the tournament with a second-round 84-70 victory in a game that wasn’t that close.

For any chance Sunday, it seemed as if UD had to have Hoover on the floor.

Jabir called Hoover “the poster child” of their program. She’s the player who not only provides the team with its most points, but its healthiest dose of give-no-quarter grit.

“When she got hit and was on the floor with what turned out to be her fifth foul, it was funny,” Jabir said. “She was lying there and I thought she was hurt. She was going, ‘I’m so sorry. I tried to do whatever I could. I tried my best. I did everything I could do.’

“And I kept telling her, ‘You’re fine. You’re fine … God, I love you’.”

Tuesday afternoon Hoover was able to reflect back on that moment: “It was all a blur. I was really angry at the call. I knew they were going right at me. I even knew the play, what it was.

“I just remember lying on the floor, thinking, ‘That was my fifth foul. I’ve just fouled out of what could potentially be my last game.’”

And that’s when one player after another came over to her and tried to buoy her.

“Ally was the one who actually told me this wouldn’t be my last game,” Hoover said. “She said she was going to make sure of that.”

Malott smiled at that recounting: “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t her last memory with a Dayton uniform on. And everyone else felt the same. Everyone stepped up in a huge way and made huge shots.”

While Kelley Austria and Amber Deane made clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to secure the 99-94 victory, no one dominated more than Malott. who finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds.

Two days earlier — as Hoover scored 20 — Malott had 18 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in the win over Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament opener.

“We started recruiting Ally in the eighth grade and back then already I told her, ‘You’ve got to be more aggressive,’ ” Jabir said with a grin. “So it’s been about eight years telling her the same thing.”

Malott grinned and agreed: “He’s said it pretty much every day.”

“And she picked this time to show what she can do,” Jabir said proudly.

No one appreciated it more than Hoover, who was relegated to the bench trying to be “the best cheerleader” she could be.

“It was great to see her go off like that out there,” Hoover said. “They really had no answer for her. It was just awesome the way she stepped up, especially her being one of my best friends and my roommate. She pulled that game out for us … and for me specifically.”

But then it’s like she’d said earlier:

“There’s always been a connection between us.”

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