SAN ANTONIO — Baylor cruised through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, looking very much like the defending champions.
NaLyssa Smith and the Lady Bears had to work on Saturday.
It took a stellar shooting performance by Smith and two big plays by Queen Egbo in the final seconds of overtime to earn a 78-75 win over Michigan in the Sweet 16.
“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, who scored 24 points on 11-of-11 shooting.
Egbo helped Baylor close it out. She gave Baylor a 76-73 lead with a foul shot with 19 seconds left, and then fired a quick pass to Moon Ursin for a wide-open layup.
Baylor didn’t get to defend its 2019 championship when the coronavirus pandemic wiped out last year’s tournament. Now the No. 2 seed Lady Bears advance to Monday’s River Walk Region final against top-seeded UConn, which beat No. 5 Iowa earlier in the day.
Baylor has won 20 consecutive games, including romps in the first two rounds. But Michigan (16-6), which had never before advanced this far in the tournament, dug out of a 12-point deficit in the second quarter and traded shots late in a determined bid to go even further.
Leigha Brown scored 23 points, helping Michigan push Baylor into the first overtime game in the Sweet 16 since Tennessee’s victory over Gonzaga in 2015. Naz Hillmon had 16 points and seven rebounds.
“Winning whether it was overtime, double overtime, regulation, winning is all that matters” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who has won three national championships.
Brown’s layup got Michigan within one with 17 seconds left. After calling timeout, Baylor was able to run off several seconds before Egbo fired the rifle pass to Ursin for probably the easiest basket of the game. Ursin scored 20 points.
Baylor still had to watch as Akienreh Johnson’s half-court try for Michigan barely missed. After a Baylor turnover in the final second, the Wolverines were unable to get a last shot near the basket before time ran out.
“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.”
Michigan never led in regulation. Hillmon tied it at 63 with 15 seconds left, converting a lob pass from Hailey Brown that barely floated over the arms of a Baylor defender.
Ursin then missed short on a shot to win with 3 seconds left, sending the game into overtime.
Michigan briefly led on Johnson’s jumper early in overtime, and the teams traded baskets to tie or change leads six times in the extra period. Dijonai Carrington’s steal and layup put Baylor ahead 75-73. Carrington finished with 19 points.
“We dug deep. We don’t rely on any one person. Obviously ‘Lyssa’s our go-to player but everyone had to step up today,” Carrington said. “We’re going to dig deep for one another.”
The Sweet 16 is the first round the NCAA is allowing a limited number of fans from the general public and Baylor had several hundred show up in the cavernous Alamodome. Baylor’s campus is about a three-hour drive from San Antonio.
Smith did have one miss. It came on a free throw in the third quarter.
“She actually if she makes one more free throw she’s perfect from the foul line as well,” Mulkey said. “Just a phenomenal player. I thought she was an All-American on the floor for us tonight. I thought when we struggled, she was a leader.”