STORRS, Conn. — Nicki Collen says she had a blackout moment in the locker room and can't remember exactly what she told her Baylor Bears at halftime, but knows the impassioned speech involved a lot of challenges.
Ja'Mee Asberry scored 26 points, including three key foul shots in the final minute, and the seventh seed overcame an early 18-point deficit to beat Alabama 78-74 on Saturday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sarah Andrews and Caitlin Bickle each added 14 for the Bears (20-12), whose rally tied for the third biggest comeback in tournament history. Baylor closed the game on a 7-0 run, all from the foul line.
Brittany Davis tied a career high with 33 points for Alabama (20-11), which closes its season on a five-game losing streak. Jada Rice and Sarah Ashlee Barker each scored 11.
Baylor will face No. 2 seed UConn in the second round Monday night.
The Bears trailed 22-4 after a quarter and by 11 at halftime, leading to some choice words from Collen to her team.
“No swear words, I gave those up for Lent, but a lot of challenges thrown out about how we needed to compete," she said. “I challenged like, 'You have to be better, you just have to be better.”
Baylor was better, opening the third quarter on a 16-3 run and taking the lead at 46-44 on a 3-pointer from the left wing by Andrews, one of her four on the evening.
Alabama fought back and led 59-54 after 30 minutes.
But Baylor held Alabama without a field goal for more than four minutes in the fourth quarter and took the lead at 71-68 on a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Andrews with 3 1/2 minutes left.
A 3-pointer from the left wing by Davis off an offensive rebound from Hannah Barber tied the game again at 71 and a conventional 3-point play from Jada Rice gave Alabama a 74-71 lead with 53.5 seconds left.
But Baylor held Alabama scoreless from there and hit seven foul shots, the final three from Asberry, to close out the game. They were 14-for-16 from the line, including 9 of 10 in the final quarter.
“I did pray,” said Asberry. “I was asking God, 'Just go in please.”
Davis had 15 points in the first quarter, nine on 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc, helping Alabama to its 18-point advantage.
The Bears hit just two of their first 16 shots from the floor and were 0 for 7 on 3-pointers over the first 10 minutes. It took three offensive rebounds in one possession before Darianna Littlepage-Buggs finally got the Bears on the board.
But Davis picked up her second foul late in the second quarter and her third foul early in the third.
Baylor closed the gap to 39-30 on a 3-pointer by Ja'Mee Asbury and trailed 41-30 at halftime.
“We just had too many mistakes down the stretch,′ Alabama coach Kristy Curry said. ”A silly foul, a travel, a missed box out on the free throw. Basketball is a game of mistakes and I don’t want those mistakes to define who they are and what they have done for our program. Baylor made some plays down the stretch and we weren’t able to and at the end of the day, that is the season.”
Alabama: This was the Crimson Tide's 13th game this season against an opponent in this year's NCAA Tournament. They are 6-7 in those games.
Baylor: Baylor had lost two straight and six of its last nine coming into the tournament, forcing them to play the first two rounds away from home for the first time since 2012 (barring the 2021 trip to the pandemic bubble). This is the Bears' 19th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and 21st appearance overall. The Bears are now 55-17. They have made 15 trips to the Sweet 16.
Texas A&M still holds the biggest rally in NCAA history, coming back from 21-down against Penn in 2017. Oklahoma State’s 19-point rally in 2010 against Chattanooga is No. 2 on the list.
Baylor will have its work cut out to advance Monday night. UConn routed Vermont 95-52 earlier Saturday. The Huskies are 5-4 all-time against the Bears, including a 69-67 win in the 2021 regional final.