Saturday’s game was brought to you by the number 12.
The Michigan women’s basketball team faced off against its in-state rivals for the second time in 12 days, and it was a game to remember.
The 70-69 win was a season-defining moment for the Wolverines, who had previously lost 12 straight games to Michigan State (7-5 Big Ten, 19-6 overall).
“It was a sense of relief and a kind of ‘finally’ moment,” said senior guard Jenny Ryan. “Michigan State has such a good annual program year and year, they just turn out phenomenal teams.
“It is good for the program and for the season as well. Any time you can beat Michigan State it’s just a good feeling to say that you won in the rivalry game.”
Leading the way for Michigan (8-4, 19-6) in the first half was senior forward Kate Thompson, who wears the number 12. Thompson had 11 of the team’s first 15 points and ended the game with 20. Thompson’s highlight of the game, however, came five-and-a-half minutes into the game when she drained an incredible 30-foot shot to beat the shot clock. Thompson is now second all-time in Michigan history with 183 career 3-pointers.
“(Thompson’s) confidence level is at an all-time high,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s such a great scorer and such a great shooter. I’ve seen very few players that can shoot the basketball like she can.”
Behind Thompson’s strong start, the Wolverines started the game off with a 17-8 run. But after a timeout, the Spartans collected themselves and went on a 12-2 run to take the lead, holding Michigan scoreless for more than four-and-a-half minutes.
After the Wolverines were able to find the basket once again, they grabbed a 26-25 lead with 3:45 remaining in the half, but Michigan State fought back to take a 32-28 lead at halftime.
The Spartans outshot Michigan 48 percent to 41 percent from the floor in the first half. Michigan State also shot 57 percent from 3-point range, and both teams had two players in double digits in the first half.
If the first half belonged to Thompson, the second half belonged to Ryan, who scored 14 of her career-high 24 points in the second half. She also added eight rebounds, five assists, and four steals, while not registering a turnover for the first time all season.
“I told (Ryan) before the game she was going to have to score,” Barnes Arico said. “But I (also) thought she was great defensively, she beat her kid on the dribble when she needed to, (and) I thought she made big plays when she needed to.”
To open the second half, the Wolverines scored four quick points, but Michigan State wasn’t quiet for long, extending its lead to six. After back-and-forth play by both teams, a huge three-point play by Ryan put the Wolverines up 48-47 with 11:47 remaining in the game. After a timeout by the Spartans, Ryan came up with a steal that resulted in another huge three-point play, this time by senior forward Sam Arnold.
Michigan’s biggest lead since early in the first half came after Ryan hit a huge 3-pointer with 8:13 left putting the Wolverines up 55-49. A timeout from the Spartan bench slowed Michigan’s momentum, but not for long. A three-point play by Thompson followed by a 3-pointer from senior center Rachel Sheffer put the Wolverines up by nine.
Five fast points by Michigan State, however, quieted the building and forced Barnes Arico to call a timeout with 3:15 remaining. The stoppage in play didn’t slow the Spartans’ touch from beyond the arc, and junior guard Klarissa Bell cut the Wolverines’ lead to one.
After missed free throws from both teams, Michigan held a one-point lead going into the final minute.
Senior forward Nya Jordan hit a huge layup with 41 seconds left, and two free throws by Ryan put the Wolverines up by five, but the Spartans hit a 3-pointer with 5.4 seconds remaining. After two more free throws by Ryan, Michigan State hit another 3-pointer with no time remaining to fall one point short.
“(Ryan) missed a couple of free throws early, but down the stretch she made every one,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes kids let that get in their head, but she was able to get rid of that and really put the game away down the stretch.
“She was incredible. I’ve coached a lot of really good point guards in my career as a coach and she leads the pack just because of everything she does. She’s the total package. She’s a coach’s dream, really.”
Michigan also found offense from Jordan who added 12 points and 7 rebounds.
The Spartans outrebounded Michigan 32-27, but the Wolverines were able to keep their turnovers to single digits for only the fourth time this season. Michigan improved its shooting from the first half and shot 55 percent in the second.
“Splitting (the series) in the regular season just creates the drama in March that you look for,” Ryan said. “If we meet them again it will be interesting.”