Heading into the fourth quarter, the No. 10 Michigan women’s basketball team found itself trailing Nebraska by four points. After letting a Big Ten title slip away down the stretch of the regular season, the Wolverines’ tournament hopes were in jeopardy.
When the final frame commenced, Michigan fought back, and — for a fleeting moment — it looked like it was going to secure the win. The Wolverines came up just short, leaving Indianapolis early and disappointed.
“Really tough game for our team,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Obviously pretty upset about the loss. A great basketball game probably for the viewers. I thought (the) two teams that played incredibly hard throughout the course of the game.”
As Michigan entered the fourth, freshman guard Laila Phelia took over on the offensive end. After scoring just six points in the first three quarters, Phelia erupted for 13 in the fourth, finishing the quarter without a miss.
“(Phelia) made a bunch of plays down the stretch that were really incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “We put the ball in her hands to make a lot of those plays and for a freshman to be able to do that I thought she started the game really shaky and real nervous and as the game progressed she became more and more comfortable.”
But as her offensive prowess shined, Michigan couldn’t quite pull far enough ahead. The Wolverines managed to jump out to their largest lead of the game, a modest six points, with 5:39 left in the game. It looked like they were finally starting to gain momentum.
But with 2:23 remaining, the Cornhusker’s final push — combined with Michigan’s inability to execute down the stretch — decided the game.
It started with Nebraska guard Sam Haiby finishing a layup at the rim to cut Michigan’s lead to two. In the Wolverines’ ensuing offensive possession, Nebraska guard Allison Wiedner stripped the ball from Hillmon and finished at the rim on the opposite end to tie the game.
Hillmon clapped back with a putback, snatching the lead back, but Haiby finished through contact the next possession for an and-one, giving Nebraska a one-point lead with a minute-and-a-half left.
There appeared to be plenty of time for the Wolverines to win or tie the game, but in each of their final three possessions they came up short.
The first possession ended with senior wing Leigha Brown missing a look at the rim. Michigan got the ball back off a Hillmon block, and after Barnes Arico called a timeout the Wolverines had their second chance to tie the game with 21 seconds left.
“We were trying to get the ball to Naz,” Barnes Arico said. “… I don’t know if it’s the pressure of the situation, but we were trying to get Naz on a staggered screen to get her a touch.”
Michigan did get the ball to Hillmon, but everyone in the gym knew exactly where the ball was going. As soon as Hillmon turned over her shoulder, she was met with a Nebraska double-team forcing a jump ball with eight seconds left.
Instead of calling their remaining timeout, the Wolverines tried to inbound the ball without a drawn-up play. It didn’t work. Senior guard Danielle Rauch attempted to lob a pass to senior forward Emily Kiser, but missed the mark. Even if the pass was completed, Kiser would be receiving the ball away from the basket with defenders instantly swarming her — a far from ideal scoring opportunity.
And on their final possession, the Wolverines needed three points to send the game to overtime. Instead of getting the ball to junior guard Maddie Nolan, the nation’s ninth most efficient 3-point shooter, the ball was inbounded to Kiser coming out of a timeout. Kiser appeared confused, and she instantly turned to fire a 30-footer.
With four seconds left, the best opportunity Michigan could muster hit the ground before the final buzzer even sounded. In those agonizing seconds, the Wolverines watched their Big Ten tournament hopes fall short.