KU women force overtime, rally past Michigan to make round two of NCAA Tournament

Kansas guard Zakiyah Franklin (15) celebrates with center Taiyanna Jackson, center right, after making a 3-pointer during a first-round college basketball game against Michigan in the women's NCAA Tournament in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

After sinking to a 10-point deficit with six minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Kansas’ defensive play and the resurgence of top-scoring duo S’Mya Nichols and Taiyanna Jackson led to a stunning comeback for an 81-72 win over Michigan on Saturday afternoon in Los Angeles.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team’s resilience,” head coach Brandon Schneider said. “They never fragmented, they just stayed the course and obviously made some really really big plays offensively that were preceded by key stop after key stop.”

Kansas was led on the day by fifth-year senior Zakiyah Franklin, with 22 points in her third 20-point game of the season, including a clutch game-tying 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.

“(We) made a lot of big threes tonight, but none bigger than fifth-year senior Zakiyah Franklin, and I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Schneider said.

“Just the trust that everyone on the team has for her, we trust her to get to the rack and that she can provide offense and defense for this team and I feel like she played great on both sides of the ball,” Nichols added.

Jackson and Nichols stepped up in the ensuing minutes, scoring 10 of the Jayhawks’ 14 points en route to the nine-point victory and the berth in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think that’s just experience and leadership, and then you have a freshman in S’Mya who’s just beyond her years in terms of her poise and composure,” Schneider said. “I think our team believes in each other, they’re very proud of what they’ve become, and I just think there’s a great level of trust.”

Even with some experience, eighth-seeded Kansas came out a bit jittery to start its first-round matchup against No. 9 Michigan — but so did the Wolverines, and the Jayhawks got out to an early 5-2 lead.

In a slow shooting stretch, Kansas was led by four straight points from Franklin who showed no fear driving to the basket and making good moves inside to finish strong. Jackson headed to the free throw line for the first time and sank one of two to lead Kansas into the second quarter down 11-10. Michigan was led by top scorer Laila Phelia with six points in the first quarter, going 2-for-4 from the field.

The Jayhawks came out shooting to start the second. A six-point run gave them a 19-14 lead as they uncharacteristically sank three 3-pointers in the first four minutes.

Schneider continued to play things conservatively, choosing to send Jackson to the bench for a couple of minutes in the first quarter after she picked up a foul. After another foul was called late on Jackson halfway through the second, she got sent to the bench again for the rest of the half. Nichols was also on the bench with two fouls, and so the Jayhawks had to rely on experienced seniors Franklin and Wyvette Mayberry for offensive production.

KU, which finished seventh in the Big 12 Conference in 3-point shooting, sank five 3s in the first half after averaging 4.5 per game throughout the season.

Bench player Ryan Cobbins was a big contributor, sinking two shots from deep to make her Kansas’ third-highest scorer in the half after the Jayhawks struggled all year with bench production.

Michigan clawed back from its second-quarter deficit with a 10-2 run to tie things at 26. The two teams traded buckets as time wound down. Two shots from the stripe from Cameron Williams gave Michigan a 32-29 lead heading into halftime of a defensively focused game.

Phelia and Williams led the Wolverines with eight first-half points each, as Williams started 0-for-4 before picking up four points from the foul line and improving down low. Franklin led Kansas with nine points at the half; Mayberry and Cobbins trailed her with eight and six points each.

Jackson played only 10 minutes in the first half of the game, scoring only one point and grabbing two personal fouls.

“We finally got into a rhythm and made some 3s, I thought Ryan Cobbins came off the bench and made some big plays. But ultimately, we just played too timid defensively, we got into a little bit of foul trouble and we weren’t near as assertive as we needed to be,” Schneider said of the first half.

Franklin continued to lead Kansas’ offense in the third quarter, but Williams caught fire as another 10-2 run gave the Wolverines their largest lead at 51-42.

Nichols remained cold from the floor, lacking an intensity she had so often displayed in tight games, as Jackson also struggled to finish down low. A buzzer-beating step-back mid-range jumper by Phelia kept Michigan at a nine-point advantage heading into the final quarter of play. The Jayhawk defense that looked so consistent to start the game fell plenty short in the third quarter as the Wolverines went 9-for-15 from the field for a 60% shooting mark in the period.

Going into the final period of regulation play, the Jayhawks were running out of time to get their top scorers going. But Nichols opened the fourth with her first points of the half with an aggressive layup, as Kansas stayed within arm’s length of Michigan.

“I felt like at that point I was just going to need to make the right play,” she said of her adjustments going into the last period of play. “Whether that’s hitting my teammate for an open shot, whether that is … an aggressive box-out, just pressuring the ball. I had to contribute in some way and I feel like I definitely made that switch.”

After the Wolverines grabbed a 10-point lead, their largest of the night, a six-point Kansas run followed by Mayberry’s third 3-pointer of the night made it a one-possession game with just under four minutes to play. As Michigan crept into foul trouble, Kansas came back, as a string of three straight free throws made it 65-62.

Phelia and Jackson traded off layups on either side to keep it a one-possession game, before Phelia and Nichols were each called for offensive fouls.

A defensive stop from the Jayhawks gave Kansas a final chance to tie things up as they were down three with 17 seconds to go. After a timeout by Schneider, Michigan’s defense on the inbound had lots of pressure on Jackson, allowing Nichols to catch an easy inbound and hand it off to Franklin just outside the arc. Her arcing shot hit off the front of the rim before kissing the glass and falling through the nylon with 12 seconds remaining on the clock.

“The kid’s a winner. And it’s why we recruited her,” Schneider said of Franklin and her third 20-point performance of the season. “Our program came from the very very bottom of the Power 5. So we needed a kid like that who was used to winning … and that’s all she’s done is help change our program around and I think it’s very very fitting that she made maybe one of the biggest plays in Kansas women’s basketball history.”

Another stop by the Jayhawks forced a last-second shot from Michigan as time expired, taking Kansas, which once trailed by as many as 10 in the quarter, into overtime.

The Jayhawks came out swinging to start overtime, as a quick lob to Jackson down low led to a crafty layup to give Kansas its first lead since the second quarter. A miss on the other end followed by a defensive rebound from Jackson led to a breakaway layup by super-senior Holly Kersgieter to give the Jayhawks a 71-67 advantage.

With Williams fouling out, Jackson sank her sixth shot from the foul line to put Kansas up five. After trading misses, the Jayhawk defense stepped up big once again with a huge block before grabbing a defensive board and drawing a foul to go back to the stripe with a minute and a half remaining. A second-chance 3-pointer by Michigan made it a one-possession game, but an offensive rebound from Jackson and drive by Nichols led to a three-point play to keep Kansas in the lead.

The Jayhawks didn’t let up from there, forcing a steal and grabbing two impressive defensive rebounds to send Nichols to the stripe twice, where she went 3-for-4 in a stunning 81-72 victory.

“I’m just proud of them. They’ve been a really resilient group and the sense of urgency that they played with in February to position themselves to be a tournament team, it doesn’t surprise me that they’re not fazed being down 10, I think, in the fourth quarter,” Schneider said.

Next up, the Jayhawks advance to the second round of the tournament, where they will face top-seeded USC on Monday at 9 p.m. Central Time. The Trojans defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 87-55.


Welcome to the new LJWorld.com. Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.