In a game that featured almost as many fouls (56) as made field goals (66), the two-seed Kentucky Wildcats were upset in Memorial Coliseum by the seventh-seed Dayton Flyers, 99-95, putting an end to the 2014-2015 season. Coach Mitchell calls it a “disappointing finish to a good season” where his team finishes 11th overall and fourth in the SEC. With the loss, the UK Hoops program will fail to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.
It was announced just before tipoff that senior Azia Bishop would be unavailable for today’s game due to a suspension because of missing curfew. Coach Mitchell referenced the meeting he had with Bishop’s fellow seniors a few weeks ago when asked about the suspension, saying that it’s his job to “uphold the standard” that the team wanted from him, and that it was important for him to enforce team rules regardless of the bad timing.
Like many games we’ve watched this year following UK Hoops, Kentucky looked like they were in control for most of the game, despite never really extending their lead to more than a couple possessions out of reach. Unfortunately, in March you can’t live on the edge like the Wildcats have all season, and the bad habit ended their year early. Mitchell said after the game that he’s noticed the teams’ poor body language on certain nights all year, and said that the lack of focus was there again tonight, but wasn’t sure if it was due to Bishop’s suspension or other factors.
After leading by three at halftime, Kentucky looked like they were going to take a hold of the reigns when Makayla Epps decided to take over about seven minutes into the second half. Epps scored 13 quick points in just four minutes, stretching the UK lead to eight, but Dayton was able to match every Wildcat run with one of their own. The Flyers’ shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, along with Ally Malott’s 28 points, kept it close, and Dayton was able to take their first lead of the second half with just over four minutes remaining. Three pointers in the final minute by Dayton’s Austria Kelley and Amber Deane were back-breakers, especially Deane’s that put the Flyers up by two possessions with twenty seconds left to play.
Makayla Epps scored 29 points in her final game of her sophomore season, 22 of those coming in the second half. Senior Jennifer O’Neill, who took credit for the loss, was the second-leading scorer tonight, and ends her career with 16 points, 5 steals, and 6 rebounds. Afterwards, an emotional Bria Goss, who was the third Wildcat in double-figures with 12, was unable explain the feeling of knowing she’ll never put on a Kentucky jersey again. Coach Mitchell pointed out that he was in shock about the ending as well, considering how well the team has practiced this week.
Usually, Kentucky wins games through their defense and turnover margins, but they were only able to accomplish one of those two goals today. UK forced 24 turnovers compared to just 5 of their own, but gave up a season-high 99 points at the same time. To make matters worse, the Wildcats only made 63 percent of their 38 free throws, compared to Dayton hitting 90 percent of their 31.
Kentucky eliminated Dayton in the round of 32 back in 2013, and the Flyers were able to return the favor here tonight on the road to advance to their first ever Sweet 16. UK had only lost once in Lexington all season, and are usually unbeatable in front of their home crowd, but Dayton sends Kentucky and their four seniors, Jennifer O’Neill, Bria Goss, Azia Bishop, and Jelleah Sidney, home.