Down one point with just 13 seconds to go, the No. 14 Michigan women’s basketball team called timeout. Out of the huddle, fifth-year wing Leigha Brown inbounded the ball and got it back in the post for one final chance. Her turnaround jumper seemed to hang in the air for a second longer, and as it hung in the air, so too did the Wolverines’ undefeated season.
Her shot fell just short, and so did Michigan, with its undefeated start coming to a close in its 10th game.
In a thorough manner, Toledo (7-2 overall) overpowered the Wolverines (9-1), 71-68, by imposing its will early and never giving up control of the game. In the process, the Rockets handed Michigan its first home loss since March 4, 2021.
Despite trailing for the vast majority of the game, the Wolverines still had a chance to win. They fought back in the fourth quarter, creating the opportunity for their final shot.
“(Brown) had a good look,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She was short, but it was a good look.”
The Wolverines started the game with two quick scores, but they quickly went cold. Unable to consistently find the basket, they ended the first quarter down by nine.
It took half of the second quarter before Michigan found its footing. With no other player on the team making more than two shots from the field, the Wolverines used a strategy that has led them to success multiple times this season: getting the ball to graduate forward Emily Kiser.
Kiser, held scoreless in the first quarter, scored nine points in the second as Michigan kept trying to pull even with the Rockets, cutting the deficit to as few as five points with three minutes to go in the half. But once again, Toledo broke away and the Rockets took a comfortable eleven-point lead into halftime.
“I thought we had good shots,” Barnes Arico said. “I just thought the shots didn’t fall.”
Each time it seemed like Michigan had harnessed some momentum, Toledo answered emphatically. Rocket guard Sophia Wiard scored 13 points in the first half, nine of which came from her 3-point shooting. But Toledo’s onslaught didn’t just come from Wiard. Forward Nan Garcia drew her defender outside play after play, often sinking a dagger in the face of the Michigan big she had forced out of position.
Out of the halftime break — a moment the Wolverines have often utilized to turn the game around — it was more of the same.
And this time, Michigan’s resolve wasn’t enough.
Just when the Wolverines found momentum, with a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder cutting the deficit to just four points and sending the fans at Crisler into a frenzy, Toledo answered once again. A steal and 3-pointer from Garcia killed all of Michigan’s momentum. Garcia’s shot helped kill the Wolverines’ perfect season, too.
Even when Michigan had one final chance to claw back, the Rockets refused to relinquish the lead they had so painstakingly built through 35 minutes of play. Despite that refusal, the Wolverines flirted with completing a comeback. Sophomore guard Laila Phelia, who had been uncharacteristically cold early, got hot in the final frame, including a layup to take the lead with 90 seconds to go.
“So going out there during the second half, I was just focusing on my defense,” Phelia said. “And then (the) offense came along … I wish I would have done that in the first half.”
In the final minute, the teams traded leads, but Toledo scored with 15 seconds to go and Michigan failed to respond on the ensuing play.
Despite the Wolverines’ best efforts, the team’s fourth-quarter surge was too little, too late, and Michigan couldn’t complete the comeback.
The Wolverines entered Thursday’s showdown with Toledo looking to extend its 21-game home win streak. But the Rockets, touting an NCAA-best 13-game road win streak, were determined to spoil Michigan’s undefeated season and extend their own win streak.
And ultimately, the Rockets succeeded, leaving the Wolverines in their wake.