Heading into the final frame, the Michigan women’s basketball team trailed Nebraska, 49-48. Two tense minutes went by with neither side able to find the nylon and break the silence.
The Cornhuskers (5-7 Big Ten, 10-13 overall) spoke first with a layup, but the Wolverines responded with a free throw from senior center Hallie Thome.
Then, more tension followed — in the form of over four more scoreless minutes — until freshman forward Naz Hillmon made her way to the line, making both shots to tie the game.
Thome soon followed suit, with two more from the charity stripe to give her team a two-point lead. That — coupled with the stellar defensive effort that followed — was enough to propel Michigan (6-6, 15-9) to a 67-61 win Thursday night at Crisler Center.
“Before the fourth quarter even started, we were all kind of tensed up — I think we could feel that,” said junior forward Akienreh Johnson, who finished with 14 points and six steals. “So Hallie, she brought us in a circle and said ‘Guys, no matter what happens just go out and have fun.’ … So after she said that, it kind of just calmed us down.”
With less than four minutes left in the opening frame and the score tied, 8-8, things took a turn for Michigan.
Freshman guard Amy Dilk made a contested floater but landed awkwardly. She collapsed, grasping her right knee, and sat out the rest of the game. Back in high school, Dilk injured that same knee two times and had surgery.
“She’s gonna get an X-ray tomorrow,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, “and then we’ll have more information about her tomorrow.”
A few possessions later, Nebraska drained a 3-pointer to take the lead and build some momentum off the Wolverines’ misfortune.
But then Hillmon — who entered the game when Dilk went out — had her say. She notched two layups that sparked a 7-0 run for her team. Michigan led, 17-13, at the end of the quarter.
“She’s my roommate. We’re pretty close, so seeing (Dilk) go down wasn’t something that any of us expected or wanted, of course,” Hillmon, who scored a team-high 18-points, said. “So that was hard for us, but we knew we had to adjust in that moment. Amy wouldn’t want us to sit around and mope and ask her about her knee in the middle of the game.”
Within the first 80 seconds of the second stanza, Johnson notched a triple, two steals and a fast break layup. Senior guard Nicole Munger also excelled. She tallied a jumper and then a 3-pointer midway through the frame to give her team a 10-point advantage — its biggest of the half.
The Cornhuskers battled with more pressure on defense though, while having their own success from beyond the arc. They made two 3-pointers that fueled a 13-4 run, and at the half, the Wolverines’ lead shrunk to three points, 35-32.
After the break, things remained close. Michigan retained the upper-hand for much of the third frame but Nebraska kept chipping away. With less than three minutes to go in the third, the Cornhuskers grabbed the lead and soon added some security with another triple. However, Michigan had the final say, squeaking out a win and improving its NCAA Tournament hopes.
“It feels awesome,” Barnes Arico said about winning her third consecutive game. “I wish we were healthy, but way for everybody else to find a way to grind it out and pull away a victory tonight.”