As sophomore forward Hailey Brown found herself cornered on the right baseline, she scanned the floor for options. Wisconsin’s defense had successfully taken away any options around the wings, but it failed to account for Michigan’s most deadly scorer.
With just under five seconds remaining on the shot clock and just one minute remaining in the second overtime period, senior center Hallie Thome calmly scored a wide open layup underneath to give the Wolverines their largest lead since the late stages of the fourth quarter. On the ensuing possession, freshman forward Naz Hillmon stole the inbounds pass and proceeded to knock down two free throws to give Michigan a 73-65 victory and its first Big Ten Tournament semifinal berth in eighteen years.
Thome was undeniably the star of the afternoon, posting 18 points, seven rebounds, and dominating on the defensive end with a block and three steals. However, perhaps the most impressive feat in Thome’s stat line was her six assists, which tied a career high for the senior.
“That’s a credit to the guards,” she said. “They realize that I get double or triple-teamed, so they keep making good cuts and that’s easy passes to make.”
Despite being seeded 13th, Wisconsin gave Michigan everything they could handle, seemingly having an answer each time it looked like the Wolverines looked poised to finally put the game away.
The Badgers rallied from a seven-point deficit with just under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, aided by seven Michigan turnovers, and answered a bucket from freshman guard Amy Dilk with a layup from freshman forward Imani Lewis to tie the game with 23 seconds to go in regulation. Deja Church’s game-winning attempt from the left wing fell short, and Wisconsin’s desperation heave failed to find the bottom of the net as time expired with the teams deadlocked at 58 points apiece.
“Our league … is stronger than it’s ever been,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Any team can beat anyone on any given night.”
In the first overtime period, both teams struggled to find their footing offensively. Two Hillmon layups helped the Wolverines take a 63-60 lead, but Lewis scored a transition layup coming off a steal and the Badgers later equalized after splitting a pair of free throws with 3.4 to go. Nicole Munger had a look from the left corner, but the shot bounced off the rim as the horn sounded, sending the game to a second overtime — the first such occurrence in a Big Ten quarterfinal game.
In the second overtime, Thome went to work. The senior nailed a free-throw line jumper to tie the game at 65, and later converted on two of her four free throw attempts to give Michigan a two-point edge. On the other end, Hillmon drew her second charge of the game on a hard drive to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard and set up Thome’s layup, which ultimately proved to be the dagger.
Though it took fifty minutes to crown a victor, the Wolverines will gladly take the win, as they will prepare for a matchup against top-seeded Maryland on Saturday. Despite the daunting task in front of them, Thome believes that the team is ready and up for the challenge.
“We can really compete against anyone,” she said, “and whatever gets thrown at us we’re ready to go.”