LEXINGTON, Kentucky — Kentucky's season came to a stunning end in the NCAA Tournament Sunday.
The Wildcats, the No. 2 seed in the Albany Region, were denied a fourth straight trip to the Sweet Sixteen of the tourney with a 99-94 loss to seventh-seeded Dayton.
Coming off a 97-52 rout of Tennessee State in the opening round, Kentucky (24-10) struggled against the Flyers (27-6) and was without one of its senior players.
The Wildcats were missing center Azia Bishop, who was suspended by coach Matthew Mitchell for "failure to uphold team standards." Mitchell said Bishop missed a team curfew Saturday night.
"You needed to be in your room at 11 p.m. last night with nobody coming by, stopping by to see you, and nobody on the floor. I don't think that there was anything in Azia's mind but a lack of focus. She just lost focus at a real important time. She's not a bad person.
"I don't know whether that lost the game for us or not. We'll never know. It's irrelevant to me. What I had to do was uphold the standard as their coach."
Bishop was averaging 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Bishop had started the seven previous games and scored six points in the opening round of the tourney.
In addition to the absence of Bishop in the post, the Wildcats shot just 43 percent from the field (33 of 76) and made just 24 of 38 from the free-throw line. Kentucky forced 24 turnovers and scored 22 points off those miscues, but failed to overcome the hot shooting hand of Dayton forward Ally Malott. The senior made 9 of 13 shots from the field, including three 3-pointers and led the Flyers with 28 points and 13 rebounds, all on the defensive end.
"We weren't nearly sharp enough from a mental standpoint to stop Dayton, and if you let them just drive the ball, and don't stop them getting to the rim, they can really hurt you," Mitchell said. "Malott had a fantastic day and Deane had a fantastic day, and they just played up to their abilities and their best. It just didn't seem like we ever had that fire in our belly to advance."
Makayla Epps scored 22 of her 29 points in the second half to lead Kentucky (24-10). Jennifer O'Neill added 16 and Bria Goss scored 12.
The contest featured nine ties and nine lead changes and neither team led by more than nine points.
Kentucky defeated the Flyers 84-70 in the tournament in 2013 but couldn't repeat the feat without one of its senior post players.
The teams combined for 61 fouls and 69 free throws. Dayton converted 28 of 31 from the line while Kentucky was 24 for 38.
Amber Deane added 23 and hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining to send the Flyers (27-6) to their first Sweet 16.
Kelley Austria made four free throws in the final 21 seconds and added 17 points for Dayton, which hit 11 3-pointers to help overcome 24 turnovers. Her 3-pointer with 1:09 left broke a 87-87 tie.
The Flyers, who won their seventh straight game, will face the winner of Monday's game between Louisville and South Florida in the Albany Regional semifinals.
Dayton: The senior duo of Andrea Hoover and Malott are the first class to win more than 100 career games in a four-year career. . The Lady Flyers have competed in six straight NCAA tournaments, a string which includes five straight at-large bids for the Atlantic 10 Conference school.
Kentucky: The Wildcats fell to 4-4 in second-round games in the NCAA Tournament, including a 3-1 mark at home. The Wildcats are 13-4 overall against Dayton, including a 2-1 mark in the NCAA tournament. . Kentucky is now 17-12 in the tourney.
Dayton plays the winner of Monday's Louisville-South Florida game in the semifinals of the Albany Regional.
Kentucky's season is over.
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