Michigan women reach Sweet 16 for first time, beat Tennessee

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Michigan center Izabel Varejao, left, gets past Tennessee center Kasiyahna Kushkituah (11) to put up a shot during the first half of a college basketball game in the second round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

SAN ANTONIO – It's been a season of firsts for Michigan, and now the Wolverines can add a trip to the Sweet 16 to that list.

Leigha Brown scored 23 points and Naz Hillmon added 19 to lead No. 6 seed Michigan to its first regional semifinals appearance with a 70-55 win over third-seeded Tennessee on Tuesday in the women's NCAA Tournament.

“It’s amazing, we’ve been having a lot of firsts on our team,” Hillmon said. “For our program, this is another one. We drenched coach in the locker room.”

The Wolverines had been 0-5 in the second round before pulling off the victory over the Lady Vols. As the final buzzer sounded, the Michigan players jumped into a group hug at center court and sang “it's great to be a Michigan Wolverine.”

“It's great for our university, great for the state of Michigan. It's great to see Michigan is not only a football and men's basketball school, but also a women’s basketball school,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said.

Leading 18-16 with eight minutes left in the first half, Michigan (16-5) held Tennessee to just one field goal the rest of the second quarter and built a 28-19 halftime lead. The Lady Vols missed their final seven shots of the period and ended their drought 1:18 into the third quarter. The Lady Vols' deficit grew to 17 points as Michigan went on a 22-7 run spanning the quarters.

Tennessee (17-8) trailed by 15 heading into the fourth quarter and was able to cut its deficit to 54-44 with under 5 minutes left before a 3-pointer by Danielle Rauch and a steal and layup by Brown restored the 15-point cushion. Tennessee couldn't get closer than nine the rest of the way.

Hillmon, the Big Ten Player of the Year, also had 15 rebounds as the Wolverines more than held their own on the glass against the Lady Vols, outrebounding them 42-40.