STORRS, Conn. -- Baylor Bears coach Nicki Collen "blacked out" and can't fully remember exactly what she told her team during an emotional halftime speech in the first round of the NCAA tournament, at which point her team trailed No. 10 seed Alabama 41-30 following a disastrous first quarter in which the Bears were outscored 22-4.
It centered around competing defensively and on the glass, she knows. And that's what her No. 7 seed squad did in the final 20 minutes on Saturday, resulting in a memorable 78-74 victory. By erasing the 18-point first-half deficit, Baylor tied the mark for the third-largest comeback win in women's NCAA tournament history.
"Well, we were really bad in the first quarter and really good after that," Collen said.
Baylor avoided a first-round NCAA tournament exit for the first time since 2001, longtime coach Kim Mulkey's first season at the helm in Waco, and set up a Monday matchup against No. 2 seed UConn. The Huskies routed No. 15 seed Vermont 95-52.
Earlier Saturday, 9-seed Miami also managed a huge rally, overcoming a 17-point deficit to take down 8-seed Oklahoma State 62-61. That tied for the fourth-largest comeback in women's NCAA tournament history. The all-time record is 21 points by Texas A&M over Penn in 2017.
All told, with Ohio State's comeback win over James Madison Saturday, the NCAA tournament had three 16-point-plus comebacks on a single day for the first time in the event's history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Baylor has had an up-and-down season, much like Saturday's game, entering the NCAA tournament at 19-12. With a 10-8 conference record, the Bears snapped the program's run of winning every Big 12 regular-season title from 2011 through 2022 and earned their lowest Big 12 tournament seed (No. 6) since 2010, falling in their first game of the event to eventual champion Iowa State.
On Saturday, the Crimson Tide rolled early and "came out punching," Collen said, adding the athletic, physical style of the SEC team rocked the Bears on their heels. Alabama's Brittany Davis had 15 points in the opening quarter alone.
Collen, who took over in Waco following the departure of Mulkey for LSU, said her team's issues didn't stem from lack of preparation, but rather execution and needing to "do what we were taught to do."
"There wasn't a lot of X's and O's in that halftime locker room," said Collen, who served as coach of the Atlanta Dream prior to returning to the college ranks. "(The message) was 'we're getting punked and we have to step up.'"
"No swear words," she assured. "I gave those up for Lent."
After managing just four points in the first 10 minutes, Baylor outscored Alabama by at least six in each quarter the rest of the way. While the Bears finally started to hit some shots -- including 14 3s by the game's end -- their "scrappy" defense was what made the difference down the stretch, ultimately forcing 19 Alabama turnovers that led to 27 Baylor points.
"I just kept saying 'we got to stick together,'" junior guard Sarah Andrews said. "They hit shots, like I felt like everything they shot was going in for them. We just stuck together and we knew sooner or later, we were going to knock down shots. But most of all, it wasn't about trading baskets. It was about us playing defense."
Graduate guard Ja'Mee Asberry led the Bears with 26 points, while Davis paced the Crimson Tide with 33, tying her career high.