NEW YORK -- Dayton's incredible season has come to an end.
It's been a stellar year for the Flyers who won a school-record 28 games and achieved their highest ranking in the AP poll. They just didn't have enough to beat second-seeded Kentucky, falling to the Wildcats 84-70 in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament on Tuesday night.
Not bad for a team that's the sixth youngest in the country.
"When I came in, we were begging people to come to games," said senior point guard Sam MacKay, tearing up. "Now my last home game we had 5,200 people. Freshman year we won our first NCAA tournament game and it was a great feeling. We rose our expectations and to be in four NCAA tournaments at a mid-major school is unbelievable."
Coach Jim Jabir, who has guided the team to the last four NCAA tournaments and its first regular season Atlantic 10 title this year was thrilled with the progress that the school has made lately.
"I'm sad we lost, but so proud of all the kids and everything we've done," he said. "We averaged 2,600-2,700 people this year. When I walked out of the tunnel and the whole lower bowl was full at the last home game, that was my goal when I took the job. I was choked up. We hope to be back here or somewhere like this next year after a "W" going to the Sweet 16."
Dayton was down 16 points to Kentucky before rallying back to 46-44 midway through the second half. The Flyers were just done in by too many turnovers and a career night by A'dia Mathies.
The two-time SEC player of the year, like most of the Wildcats, was sick before the game -- bitten by a flu bug that was sweeping through the team.
Mathies shook off the stomach virus to put up one of the best performances in school history. She matched her career high with 34 points.
"She looked really ill before the game and didn't look energized like `I'm going to have this kind of performance.' She felt terrible. It was a definite Michael Jordanesque. An unbelievable performance."
The Wildcats (29-5) will face Delaware in the semifinals of the Bridgeport Regional on Saturday.
With Kentucky clinging to a 46-44 advantage early in the second half, Mathies scored 10 points during a 16-3 run to help the Wildcats take control of the game.
She had two 3-pointers, including one to cap the burst and make it 62-47. Mathies was coming off the worst game of her career where she didn't hit a field goal in the first-round win over Navy. She made 13 of 17 against Dayton.
"I just went out there and played as hard as I could," Mathies said. "I believe on the first possession I didn't know how I'd make it through this. I didn't want my season to end. Everybody gave their all and came with their victory."
Andrea Hoover scored 22 points to lead the Flyers (28-3), who got no closer than eight the rest of the way to end the best season in school history.
One of the best seasons for Kentucky will continue in Bridgeport. The Wildcats have the most wins in school history and have reached the regional semifinals for the third time in the past four seasons.
Coach Matthew Mitchell is building a tradition at a school rich in men's basketball history.
"We have the goal of becoming the best program in the country," he said. "We have a lot of work to do, but we are making a lot of progress."
Dayton got off to a strong start, hitting its first seven shots and were tied 14-14 with Kentucky before the Wildcats turned up their pressure. They went on a 12-0 run over the next 5 minutes to take a 26-14 advantage. Mathies hit two 3-pointers during the burst. The Flyers had four turnovers in that stretch.
"(Mathies) is a great player," Jabir said. "The things she can do with the basketball. She can shoot the 3. That one shot where she drove and leaned in on our post and looked like Michael Jordan two feet lower. There was nothing more we could have done there."
Kentucky led 38-22 with 3:12 left and looked like they were about to blow the game open but went cold from the field and started fouling Dayton.
The Flyers closed the half on a 9-2 run hitting all six free throws they attempted to trail 40-31 at the break.
Hoover hit a 3-pointer with 34 seconds left to cap the burst. It was the Flyers first 3 of the game. They hit 10 in the opening-round 96-90 double-overtime win over St. John's.
Dayton kept it going to start the second half and closed to 46-44. The Flyers only had one turnover during their run to bridge the halves after committing 14 in first 15 minutes.
Unfortunately the Wildcats' "40 minutes of dread" wore down Dayton as the Flyers had five turnovers during Kentucky's burst that blew open the game.