I hope everyone was able to stay up and watch the No. 1 Baylor men’s comeback on the nauseating court of Oregon for a great 78-70 victory. Check out Michael Nichols’ coverage of the game here.
Now the No. 5 Baylor women get their turn for a marque matchup as they play No. 13 Michigan in Uncasville, CT, for the Hall of Fame Showcase game at Mohegan Sun Area. After the game, and prior to UConn taking on Louisville, the WNBA Draft Lottery will be held. The top four picks are expected to go to the Indiana Fever, Washington Mystics, Dallas Wings and Atlanta Dream—Nikki Collen’s former team.
The game between the Bears and Wolverines is a rematch of last year’s Sweet 16 instant classic in San Antonio, TX, where Baylor won in overtime 78-75. The Bears were up nine in the fourth quarter, but Michigan rallied back to force overtime.
The Wolverines return a majority of their team from last year including superstars Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown. The duo had 16 and 23 points in the game last year and now lead the Wolverines in scoring with 20.7 and 13.3 points per game respectively. Emily Kiser, Maddie Nolan and Danielle Rauch all played limited roles in last year’s game, but are averaging 10.5, 7.6 and 7.4 ppg respectively. Freshman guard Laila Phelia averages 7.2 ppg, mostly off the bench, to round out the top six in scoring on the team.
Michigan is 10-1 on the season with their only loss coming at No. 10 Louisville 70-48. Otherwise they have defeated everyone else including Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Minnesota as well as Mississippi State and No. 16 Oregon State in the Daytona Beach Invitational.
The matchup of the day is expected the be down on the blocks between Hillmon and Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith. The duo combined for 40 points on 18-of-21 shooting last March (Smith tied a record by going a perfect 11-11 from the field), and are walking double doubles. Hillmon averages 8.5 boars per game while Smith averages 20.4 points and 13.2 rebounds per game—one of only three players in women’s college basketball to average 20 and 10 thus far.
Baylor Coach Collen has said emphatically that she believes Smith, a returning All-American, is the best player in the country this season. She is anticipated to go as the No. 1 or 2 draft pick in the WNBA (she would join Brittney Griner as the only No. 1 picks from Baylor) as she can play inside as well as handle the ball, shoot threes and defend just about any position.
In Baylor’s only loss on the road to Maryland, Smith had 30 points and 15 rebounds and at one point scored nine straight points to get the Bears back in the game. There is an argument to be made that Smith could be the best player to play at Baylor if she can lead her team to a national title in her senior season.
The game should have an old school, physical feel to it as each team as a second post beast to play alongside Hillmon and Smith. Kiser also averages over eight rebounds for Michigan and Queen Egbo averages 9.8 points and 7.9 boards per game. Both teams will be looking to win this game on the glass as each has out-rebounded their competition thus far this season.
Michigan only averages 4.7 made three-pointers per game and allows their opponents to make 6.1 threes per game. Baylor will look to exceed that today with their new offense. From 2013-14 to 2020-21, Baylor made only 10 or more three-pointers in a game five times across 281 games. They have nailed double digit threes twice so far this year under Collen’s new system.
The three-point shooting burden will be on Jordan Lewis, Ja’Mee Asberry and Sarah Andrews are shooting 32.6, 35.3 and 41.9 percent respectively this season. All are averaging at least 9.7 points per game.
Michigan has a very dangerous team, however, I believe that Smith and Baylor pull this out in the end 70-62.