ALBANY, NY – The No. 1 seed UConn Huskies (35-1) will play the upset minded No. 7 seed Dayton Flyers (28-6) who are making their first appearance in the Elite Eight tonight.
Dayton has traveled an unlikely path having captured upset victories over both No. 2 seed Kentucky and no. 3 seed Louisville on their road to the East Regional Finals.
The Huskies, making their 10th straight appearance in the Elite Eight as a program are not counting on their experience alone to carry them to victory over Dayton.
“I think experience helps to a certain extent because maybe you know what to expect when you are there and you know how important that game is,” senior forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis said. “At the same time I think Dayton might have a little bit of their own edge and excitement just because it is the first time that they are going through it.”
UConn will look to some of their more experienced members against Dayton that shined during their victory over Texas. Led by 31 points from junior forward Breanna Stewart, the UConn offense continued to thrive in the NCAA tournament. The Huskies have outscored opponents by an average of 47.6 points per game in the NCAA tournament.
Stewart, averaging 18.7 points per game so far, has kicked it into another gear for the NCAA tournament. UConn coach Geno Auriemma is unsure exactly what makes Stewart so dangerous during this time of year.
“She just has a unique ability to do big things in big moments,” Auriemma said. “Stewie does what she does because she is wired a certain way. She’s just made differently. I’ve been lucky I’ve had a bunch of those [players] and I still can’t figure out what allows them to be like that.”
Although Dayton is new to the big stage they have experienced leaders of their own that they count on. Dayton starts four upper classmen including senior guard Andrea Hoover, their leading scorer with 17.3 points per game.
Senior forward Ally Malott provides versatile post play for Dayton, averaging 15.7 points per game with 7.9 rebounds. She also has the ability to shoot from long range, shooting 40 percent on three-point field goals.
Dayton likes to play a fast paced style, averaging 76.5 points per game. Their are ranked 13th in the nation in scoring.
Dayton head coach Jim Jabir does not want his team to change how they play offensively against a high scoring UConn team that leads the nation in offense with 89.7 points per game.
“We are going to try to defend and then when we have opportunities to score we are going to try to get out and run and just be smart,” Jabir said “Conversely we have to get back and slow them down the best we can. They can’t get layups and wide open threes out of transition.”
Although Dayton has made their furthest NCAA tournament run in program history they are not ready for things to end as they face their biggest test of the season.
“I think our team kind of thrives on being the underdog,” Hoover said. “We want to go out there and just play as hard as we can and with pride. We are not going to go out there just to be there, we are really going to try to win the game. They are UConn and they are a great team and have all of this history behind them, but we are trying to make our own history too.”
As UConn gets set to play for the chance to advance to the Final Four for the eighth straight time and 16th time in program history they are not taking Dayton lightly.
“We know that this is a position that we want to be in and we know that there is still another game to be played,” Stewart said. “We are not looking ahead to the Final Four or anything like that. We know that they are a scrappy team and that they are a team that everyone has looked off.”