QUEENS, N.Y. — There was one play in Tuesday night's game when A'dia Mathies drove the basketball, hovered in the air, leaned against two Dayton defenders and willed the ball into the goal.
"She looked like Michael Jordan, maybe 2 feet lower," Flyers Coach Jim Jabir said of Kentucky's star senior guard. "There was nothing more we could've done there.
"I couldn't even yell at somebody about that. I was looking for someone to yell at, maybe her mom and dad, I don't know."
Mathies turned in Jordan-like numbers in the Cats' 84-70 win over Dayton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, matching her career high with 34 points and hitting a career-best six three-pointers.
The senior missed just one shot from long range in the win, which propelled the Cats to their third Sweet 16 in four years. They will meet up next with Delaware in the Bridgeport Region on Saturday.
Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell discussed Jordan with the team in the locker room before the game.
"We referenced his Airness before the game," Mitchell said.
He even told the Cats, who had three players battling a stomach virus before the game and then another player, junior forward Samarie Walker, leave the court in the middle of a fast break to throw up on the sideline: "I'm not sure this is going to be a Michael Jordan-like performance."
Mitchell especially didn't think he'd see that kind of effort from Mathies, one of the four ill players. In fact, the senior guard confessed that before the first media timeout she wasn't even sure she was going to be able to keep playing.
"She looked really ill before the game," Mitchell said. "She just felt terrible. She really felt bad. But it was a definite Michael Jordan-esque performance."
Mathies was coming off one of the worst games of her career in the first round at Carnesecca Arena on St. John's campus. In the game against Navy, she had no baskets for the first time in her career and finished with just five points.
But she recovered on Tuesday, scoring 34 points (a new NCAA Tournament high for her) in 32 minutes. For good measure, Mathies chipped in three rebounds, three steals and two assists with no turnovers for Kentucky, which got its school-record 29th victory of the season.
"She did go off on us," Dayton guard Andrea Hoover said. "She had a couple of shots and I was like, 'Wow. That was pretty amazing.'"
The Flyers (28-3) flew out to an early 14-12 lead, making their first seven shots.
Kentucky responded by scoring 14 unanswered. Mathies had two three-pointers in that spree and Walker had two steals for layups on the other end.
Kentucky's lead ballooned to 38-22 before the Flyers were able to get back in it with eight free throws and Hoover's three-pointer — their first of the game — with 27 seconds to go in the half. Hoover finished with 22 points for the Flyers. Cassie Sant added 13 points.
But UK's 40-31 lead at the half wasn't nearly enough as Dayton used a 10-2 run early in the second half to cut the Cats' lead to 46-44 with 16 minutes to play.
"Never one time did we back down," Jabir said. "We took a hit, came back and we made a run."
Kentucky (29-5) seemed to take the run personally and responded with a 16-3 run, including 10 points from Mathies, to grab a 62-47 advantage with 10:27 to go.
"I was just out there playing," Mathies said. "I knew they'd cut it pretty close. I was just out there trying to play hard. I don't know when my buckets came or how they came, I'm just glad they did."
As good as UK's offense looked during that spree, its defense was better, holding the Flyers without a basket for six minutes.
"We're not used to seeing that athleticism, that pressure, that attack constantly," said Jabir, whose team had 23 turnovers. "It's a cumulative effect and it just wears you down."
Kentucky scored 31 points off of Dayton mistakes.
Samarie Walker added 14 points and five rebounds. Guards Jennifer O'Neill and Bria Goss added 11 points apiece for the Cats, who shot 47.1 percent for the game.
Where: Bridgeport, Conn.
Records: Kentucky 29-5; Delaware 32-3
Wins for Cats, the most in a single season in program history
Field goals made by A'dia Mathies after going 0-for-5 against Navy21
Points A'dia Mathies needs to reach 2,000 for her career.
Winning streak for Delaware, UK's opponent Sunday in the Sweet Sixteen
Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241 Twitter: @jenheraldleader Blog: ukwomen.bloginky.com