This was foreign territory for the Michigan women’s basketball program.
For the first time in school history, the Wolverines were in the Sweet 16. So they stayed on the proverbial dance floor — for as long as they can.
All the way down to 0.9 of a second in overtime — against the defending national champion.
It took an extra session to settle things but despite the Wolverines (16-6) best efforts as they fought their way back into the game — it was not enough as Baylor (28-2) squeaked by with a 78-75 win in the NCAA tournament.
“I actually thought we had them for a period of time there,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We persevered through a tremendous amount this season and had an opportunity to beat the national champions tonight.”
Several times throughout the game, the Baylor Bears had appeared to distance themselves from the Wolverines even carrying a 12-point lead.
Yet, Michigan’s heart and determination—along with baskets from Leigha Brown and Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon (including a game-tying basket with 17 seconds left to force OT) were the difference.
As Hillmon’s night began making four of her first five baskets, forcing Baylor to collapse its defense inside against the U-M star. The non-Hillmon Wolverines portion of the starting lineup struggled, shooting 26 percent in the first half.
In the second half, just as the second round game against Tennessee, Leigha Brown came alive for the Wolverines offense. Brown shot 6 of 9 in the second half to net a team-high 23 points in the loss.
Hillmon finished with 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting. Akienreh Johnson added 14 points, shooting 3-for-6 from the 3-point line for Michigan (16-6).
As U-M nipped at the heels of the Baylor Bears, there was always a play or some movement that teams of Baylor’s caliber make and it’s what separates them and a handful of other schools when playing for the largest prize in women’s college basketball.
Once in regulation and once in overtime, DiJonai Carrington came up with clutch steals on possessions that could’ve either given Michigan a tie, or seen them take the lead. Carrington’s efforts are just the beginning of the story for Baylor (28-2), which will face UConn on Monday in the Mercado regional final.
Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith was a perfect 11 of 11 for 24 points — the most made baskets for a player perfect from the field in the tournament since 2018 — Moon Ursin’s 20 points and a 19-point effort from Carrington off the bench.
“If it doesn’t show today that we want to win the whole thing, I don’t know what to tell you all. This team just gave it their all today,” said Smith.
Michigan shot 46% (29-for-63) from the field and 9 of 24 (38%) from the 3-point line. Baylor was 32-for-64 (50%) from the field and outrebounded U-M, 37-32.
Associated Press contributed to this report.