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Dayton overwhelms Stanford with depth, advances to first Elite Eight in 30 years

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – There is deep, and then there is Dayton.

There are teams that play nine or 10 guys. And then there are the Flyers, who played 12 Thursday night against Stanford in the Sweet 16 – nine of them getting double-digit minutes.

There are teams with a rotating cast of contributors. And then there is Archie Miller's starless cast of thousands, which got a career-high 12 points from a freshman bench jockey who was averaging 2 points and 8 minutes per game.

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Flyers forward/center Matt Kavanaugh (35) shoots over Stanford 's Stefan Nastic. (USA TODAY Sports)

That's the story of Dayton's 82-72 victory over Stanford, earning its first Elite Eight bid in 30 years. Too many Flyers on the court, too many Flyers fans in the stands. All-day Dayton.

"They were relentless," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "That's the best way I can put it. They came in waves. They've got two players at every position."

Miller does have a Noah's Ark team – two of everything. That has been Dayton's biggest strength this year, the ability to throw bodies at the opposition and trying various combinations and ride whoever has the hot hand.

Thursday night the hot hand early belonged to Kendall Pollard, and that's a first this season. The 6-foot-6 freshman from Chicago was the beneficiary of many crisp passes, and he finished them with strong drives or short jumpers to score a dozen points in the game's first 28 minutes.

"Coach just put faith in me, put me out there for a good amount of minutes and I just tried to capitalize and do my best," Pollard said.

How unexpected was his contribution? Pollard had scored a total of 12 points in five postseason games. He's the No. 11 scorer on the team. This is a guy who had a pair of one-minute performances as recently as five weeks ago.

"This guy's a big-time winner," Miller said. "Four state championships, played at Simeon, played with I don't know how many Division I players, and the pressure that they were under – he's not afraid of anything. … I really feel like we can trust him. … He's at his best now, and I think that's just a tribute not only to him, but everybody on our team to kind of stay with it."

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As a whole, Dayton certainly has been at its best the past eight days. The team that tied for fifth in the Atlantic 10 has taken a prudent approach to eating the power-conference elephant – one bite at a time. The Flyers have it three-fourths devoured.

They opened the tourney by beating Ohio State by a point, then Syracuse by two. Stanford was a relative blowout at 10, in a game Dayton controlled most of the way – including in the stands.

"That was a home game," said Miller, appreciative of the Flyers' following that flooded Memphis.

The fans have another two days to party on Beale Street now. And the team has one more power-conference opponent Saturday, top-seeded Florida, standing between it and a Cinderella Final Four.

"People have been doubting us and not giving us a lot of credit," said guard Jordan Sibert, who had a team-high 18 points against the Cardinal. "But I know these guys. I know what coach wants. We all want to win. … We fight every day in practice. We compete every day. No matter what, we just want to go out there and show people that we can compete with anybody and handle anybody."

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Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (back), Seahawks CB Richard Sherman (L) and Cardinal football coach …

Credit Miller with refusing to get uptight with his rotation. At this time of year, coaches will bail on a lot of role players, relying on their best guys – and sometimes exhausting them in the process.

If anything, Miller is opening it up even more. Pollard was the revelation in this game. Dyshawn Pierre was the leading scorer against Syracuse. Vee Sanford made the winning basket against Ohio State. Nobody knows who will be next for Team Whoever – including the opponent.

"Not only are they putting bodies out there, but they are all capable," Dawkins said. "I was watching them on tape, and I was appreciating what they do. You have a number of guys come in, and you don't know if the guy coming off the bench is going to be the leading scorer or the guy starting. It creates a unique dilemma. … A typical game, you're ID'ing five, six guys and their tendencies. But against them you have to ID 10 guys and get an understanding of what each is doing out on the floor, and that becomes somewhat difficult."

Bench scoring Thursday: Dayton 34, Stanford 2.

"At some of our best moments of the season, we stuck with everybody," Miller said.

 

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