Flyers make eighth NCAA appearance in nine seasons this week
Shauna Green reminded the Dayton Flyers in practice Sunday of how hard it is to get into the NCAA tournament — not because she didn’t expect her team to hear its name called Monday but because she wanted the players to appreciate the magnitude of their accomplishment.
“Our senior group has been three out of four times,” said Green, the second-year Dayton coach. “I said, ‘You guys, do you know how hard that is to do that and to go eight out of nine times?’ I think people think it’s easy, and it’s very, very hard, and it’s getting harder and harder — especially from non-power five conferences — to get an at-large. That’s why this year, I’m really proud of what we did.”
Dayton (23-6) earned a No. 9 seed and will play No. 8 seed Marquette (23-9) at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. The Flyers have earned NCAA tournament berths every year except 2016 since making their tournament debut in 2010. That's the best nine-year stretch by an Atlantic 10 team since George Washington appeared in eight tournaments from 2000-08.
Dayton ranks third in the conference in NCAA berths behind George Washington (17) and St. Joseph’s (13) and has made up ground fast. Green has taken the Flyers to the tournament in her first two seasons as head coach, and they made it in 2013, 2014 and 2015 when she was an assistant coach under Jim Jabir.
This season, Dayton finished 7-4 in non-conference play and then won 15 straight Atlantic 10 games before losing its regular-season finale at Saint Louis. Despite a loss to George Washington in the semifinals of the A-10 tournament, Dayton received a single-digit seed for the fifth time.
“Our run in the conference really helped us,” Green said. “Our RPI remained in the 30s all year. Our non-conference schedule, we scheduled right, and our losses were top-50 losses. It’s so hard to do. I can’t say it enough. I’m so proud of our kids. They deserve it. You win 16 games in a row, go 15-1 in the conference. I think we did the work, and we were rewarded for it with a nine seed, too.”
Dayton is 5-7 in its seven previous NCAA appearances. Here’s a look back at its tournament history:
Best victory: No. 7 seed Dayton beat No. 2 seed Kentucky 99-94 in the second round in 2015 in Lexington, Ky., earning a berth in the Sweet 16 for the first time. Junior guard Kelley Austria scored seven points in the last 68 seconds and hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:08 to play.
Worst loss: Dayton earned its best seed in 2014, a No. 6, but lost 83-69 to No. 11 seed Florida in the first round at Penn State. The Flyers led 58-46 five minutes into the second half but were outscored 21-9 in the last six minutes.
Best game: Dayton beat St. John's 96-90 in double overtime in the first round in 2013 in Queens, N.Y. Freshman guard Amber Deane hit a game-tying jump shot with 16 seconds left in the first overtime. Austria, then a freshman, scored seven points in the second overtime.
Biggest comeback: Dayton, which trailed 50-38 with 13:58 left in the game, beat Texas Christian 67-66 in its first NCAA tournament game in 2010 in Knoxville.
Biggest shots: Redshirt freshman forward Brittany Wilson hit two big shots in the final minute against TCU. The first one gave Dayton its first lead of the second half with 33 seconds left. The second one, off an assist by sophomore guard Patrice Lalor, came with 1.1 seconds to play and lifted Dayton to its first NCAA tournament win.
“With it being our first time in the NCAA tournament, we had nothing to lose,” Wilson said, “so we tried to give it all that we could.”
Longest trip: Dayton played in College Station, Texas, in 2012. That's 1,085 miles from Dayton. The Flyers were a No. 11 seed and lost 72-55 to No. 6 seed Arkansas in the first round.
Best performance by a starter: Senior forward Ally Malott led the Flyers with 28 points and 13 rebounds against Kentucky in 2015. She made 9 of 13 shots from the field, 3 of 4 3-pointers and 7 of 7 free throws.
Best performance by a reserve: Senior forward Olivia Applewhite came off the bench to compile 13 points and 16 rebounds against St. John's in 2013.
“I’m as senior and the bottom line is I didn’t want to go home today,” Applewhite said. “I figured our shots weren’t really falling, so I could crash the boards. That’s been my role all year.”
Best performance by a freshman: Austria had 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting against St. John's.
Most underrated moment: Dayton lost 91-70 to No. 1 seed Connecticut in the Elite Eight in 2015, but it was almost a bigger story that Dayton led 44-43 at halftime. UConn hadn't trailed at halftime in two years and had been outscored in a half only 18 times in their last 301 halves. Dayton was a 33-point underdog.
“I was just so proud of our team,” Malott said. “I don’t think we have anything to hang our heads about. Obviously, we would have loved to have won and gone to the Final Four, but I don’t think anybody expected us to get this far.”
Dayton vs. Marquette in Louisville, 2:30 p.m., ESPN2