By Harper Mayfield | Sports Writer
Baylor women’s basketball won an electric Sweet 16 game on Saturday, holding off six-seeded Michigan in the final seconds of overtime for a 78-75 win over the Wolverines. With the win, Baylor moves on to the Elite Eight, just two wins away from an appearance in the national title game.
“It just means a great deal to get to another Elite Eight,” head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We’ve got a lot of those in my 21 years at Baylor, and it matters to us. I thought our crowd was outstanding. They helped us — just a lot of Baylor people throughout the arena.”
The extra five minutes of game time created opportunities for some inflated box score numbers across the board. Baylor had three players score 19 or more points, led by junior forward NaLyssa Smith, who finished with 24 on a blistering 11-11 from the field, including 1-1 from downtown.
Senior guard Moon Ursin joined Smith near the top of the scoring column, with 20 points of her own, to go along with five rebounds and four assists. Guard DiJonai Carrington poured in 19 points and came up with some huge plays down the stretch to help secure the Baylor win. Guard DiDi Richards did a little bit of everything, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out nine assists with a pair of blocks and steals. Smith felt that the team’s effort was indicative of their desire for success.
“If it doesn’t show today that we want to win the whole thing, then I don’t know what to [say],” Smith said. “This team gave it their all today. This is the team I knew we were capable of being, and we finally get to put that on display.”
On the defensive end, Baylor was able to hold star Michigan forward Naz Hillmon to just 16 points on the night, while getting her in foul trouble. The Lady Bears also held the Wolverines under 50% shooting over the course of the game, including two quarters under 40%.
The first quarter was one of the most competitive Baylor had seen all year. The Lady Bears and Wolverines went blow for blow all quarter, and neither team led by more than four. Baylor beat Michigan off the pine in the first, getting four points from the bench to the Wolverine’s zero. That was enough to be the difference in the opening quarter, as Baylor went to the second with a 16-13 lead.
In the second, Michigan would cut the lead to one, but the Lady Bears weren’t so easily intimidated. Baylor was able to put together an 11-2 run to keep the Wolverines at arm’s length. Heading into halftime, Baylor wasn’t quite so hot, as they failed to score after the 3:10 mark in the quarter. Michigan cut the lead to six but no closer as the half ended with Baylor on top 29-23.
The third quarter saw Baylor shoot over 53% from the floor, allowing the Lady Bears to build a lead despite a strong effort from Michigan. Once again Baylor was able to get more out of their bench than UM was, helping to keep the Michigan defense honest. Both teams battled in the painted area, but Baylor snuck by with the edge in second chance points. The Lady Bears led by as many as 11 in the quarter, but a streak of buckets from Michigan’s Leigha Brown cut the lead to 47-40 as the third came to a close.
The Wolverines made their move in the fourth, shooting almost 65% from the field. It was all Baylor could do to just keep pace with Michigan, who hit 75% of their shots from beyond the arc. Michigan came storming back and knotted things up at 63 with just 15 seconds of play remaining. A missed jump shot by Ursin gave the Wolverines another chance at a win, but center Queen Egbo came up with a big defensive play to make sure the game went to overtime.
The extra period was all Baylor, start to finish. The Lady Bears converted on an astonishing 85% of their shots, showing their poise and experience. A steal and runout by Carrington gave Baylor the lead for good. Carrington has come up big for Baylor time and time again, and Mulkey knows just how valuable a seasoned guard can be.
“I think her experience and having been in college as long as she has, played against big-time opponents before we got her when she was in the Pac-12, and she’s healthy, it’s just allowed her not to get too flustered or too high or too low,” Mulkey said.
Even though Baylor was ahead, that didn’t mean the excitement was over. A Leigha Brown score cut the lead back down to one, but not to be outdone, a layup from Ursin at the other end solidified the score at 78-75. A Michigan half-court heave was no good, and Baylor moved on to the Elite 8.
As close as the game was, Mulkey values this win like any other.
“Well, winning — whether it was overtime, double overtime, regulation — is all that matters,” Mulkey said. “I’m not one of these that thinks, ‘Oh, man, we’ve been in a tight game, we won it, that’s really going to boost us in the next game.’”
On Monday, Baylor will face off with UConn, the No. 1 seed in the region. A matchup between the Lady Bears and Huskies was cancelled earlier in the year, so the showdown between two of basketball’s top programs will no doubt be an exciting one. The game is set for 8 p.m. on ABC.