For the second game in a row, the Michigan women's basketball team watched as a potential game-winning shot pinballed around the rim at the final buzzer.
This time, the bounce went in its favor.
After rallying from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Wolverines (11-5 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) clinched a 79-78 win against Northwestern (9-6, 2-1) in overtime after Wildcats sophomore guard Jordan Hamilton’s shot ricocheted off the rim three times before harmlessly falling into the hands of freshman forward Naz Hillmon as the buzzer sounded.
Senior guard Nicole Munger hit two free throws with 51.8 seconds to go to put Michigan ahead for good, maintaining her perfect shooting percentage from the line.
“It was great to be on the winning side,“ said head coach Kim Barnes Arico.
The first half was tightly contested, with the Wolverines trailing, 40-38, at intermission. However, scoring woes in the first quarter prevented the team from entering the locker room ahead. Michigan went on a three-minute scoring drought, and found itself clinging to a slim 16-14 edge at the end of the quarter despite Northwestern's inability to make a field goal for three and a half minutes.
Down 56-50 entering the fourth quarter, Michigan got big plays from Munger, Hillmon and senior forward Hallie Thome to salvage what had been one of the team’s sloppier efforts of the season. Thome opened the period with an open layup, and two possessions later saved a loose ball from going out of bounds to set up a 3-pointer from sophomore forward Hailey Brown. Munger added a big bucket of her own when she knocked down a corner triple to cut the Wildcats' lead to 63-60.
Hillmon outmuscled defenders off her missed free throw to draw a foul on a putback attempt, causing Pallas Kunaiui-Akpanah to foul out. A play later, Munger found Thome on a gorgeous bounce pass inside to cut the lead to two. Hillmon knotted the score at 67 apiece on the next possession, supplying the Wolverines with the spark that they had been searching for the entire half. When discussing her 21-point performance, which included a whopping seven offensive rebounds, Hillmon said that her mindset never changed, even during some of the game's key moments.
“The entire game I was getting putbacks and trying to get to the basket, so I tried to keep that same mindset so that I didn’t worry myself,” Hillmon said.
However, the Wildcats responded with three quick points to take the lead back. After Hillmon split a pair of free throws, Michigan was whistled for a foul on a loose ball, much to the chagrin of the crowd. After the Wildcats converted on both of their free throws, Thome notched a layup with 25 seconds left to cut the lead to two after Hillmon shielded an errant pass from being picked off.
Hillmon produced another big play on the Wolverines' next offensive possession. Following two missed free throws from Northwestern, battling inside to secure a putback off of her own miss to tie the score up at 72.
“Even if it was a bad pass (Hillmon) would come to get it,” Brown said. “And even if she missed she’d get the rebound.”
Michigan forced an airball on the ensuing Wildcats possession to send the game into overtime. After the game, Munger noted that the team's defensive effort down the stretch was instrumental in kickstarting its comeback.
“If we’re not scoring we have to make sure they’re not scoring,” she said.
Northwestern gained the edge with a minute to go in overtime when it sunk two free throws following a foul, but Munger returned the favor to regain the lead. When sophomore guard Deja Church was whistled for an offensive foul with 12 seconds left, it gave the Wildcats one final chance to win the game and the Wolverines a chance for one last stop. After Jordan Hamilton’s layup bounced off the rim, Michigan found itself basking in the glory of a thrilling 79-78 victory.