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Michigan wins first NCAA Tournament game since 2001

Nicholas Williams/Daily
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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 24, 2013

In a season filled with accomplishments, the Michigan women’s basketball team added a new highlight to put atop its resume on Sunday night. For the first time since 2001, the Wolverines won a game in the NCAA Tournament and now find themselves matched up against lethal No. 1 seed Stanford.

In a 60-52 win over Villanova (9-7 Big East, 21-11 overall), it was clear Michigan came out erratic and excited, struggling to finish on several early shots in the paint while starting out shooting 4-for-14. The Wolverines’ defense held down the fort, grabbing a 13-10 lead and forcing three early Wildcat turnovers before senior guard Jenny Ryan scored nine straight points for Michigan (9-7 Big Ten, 22-10) to build a seven-point lead.

“I thought we did a great job offensively on them, and I thought we did a great job of getting (Laura) Sweeney in foul trouble and obviously that was a key to the game,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She scored their first seven points. They wore us down a little bit late, but we were really able to take advantage of their size inside. I thought (senior center) Rachel (Sheffer) was tremendous.

“It came down to the end, and we’re happy to be playing one more day.”

Villanova, which is seventh in the country with 8.3 3-pointers per game, came out flat beyond the arc, starting 1-for-8. The Wildcats went into halftime having hit only three 3-pointers, but besides a nine-point run from Ryan, the Wolverines had a sloppy first half offensively. Michigan went into halftime with six turnovers, while Villanova had four of its own, and both teams hit under 40 percent of their shots.

“I think just keeping our composure was huge,” Ryan said. “Even if they got the lead, I was feeling good about our team, especially the way we were talking to each other in the huddle. Obviously any time a team does get a lead, it’s a bit demoralizing, but what we talked about the whole time is that if they score we need to score, and just need to get one stop at a time.”

Clinging to their two-point lead, the Wolverines came out strong behind Sheffer’s layup that sparked a 9-0 run to stretch their lead to nine. Sheffer ended the game with 16 points and matched her career-high 13 rebounds.

Five straight points from Villanova cut Michigan’s momentum, but senior forward Kate Thompson drilled a 3-pointer with 12:43 remaining to bring the Wolverine lead back to five. Thompson ended the game with a team-high 17 points and six rebounds.

“I think the momentum change was really big for us,” Sheffer said. “Whenever Kate hits a three, it’s always a huge momentum change because it’s usually a great shot, so I think it just really set us off to keep the energy going for us.”

After back and forth from both teams, the Wildcats’ sophomore forward Lauren Burford had the opportunity for a four-point play to tie the game, but missed the free throw with 7:56 remaining.

“We knew they were going to make runs, and we knew they were going to score,” Ryan said. “(But) we just tried to stick to our runs and what we practiced all week.”

Michigan responded with a three-point play from Sheffer, pulling its lead back to four. With 4:24 left in the contest, Villanova came out of a timeout committing a huge turnover that resulted in Thompson’s third 3-pointer of the game. A strong run to follow sealed the Wolverines’ win, bringing their largest lead of the game to 10. Michigan committed 14 turnovers, but outrebounded the Wildcats, 36-25.

“I think we knew going into the game the style that they have,” Sheffer said. “They do shoot a lot of threes, so we had to take advantage of crashing the boards and getting out in transition. I think I had a double-double (tonight), but I was just in the right place at the right time for a lot of those rebounds.”

Ryan ended the game with 13 points and three assists, and senior forward Nya Jordan also played a critical role, adding 12 points and nine rebounds. The Wolverines found success from the foul line too, going 11-for-13 from the charity stripe.

The most glaring weakness for Michigan this season has been its bench, which was held scoreless on Sunday. Michigan will need to find some form of production from its bench to compete with Stanford on Tuesday night.

“We need our seniors to carry us in the end,” Ryan said. “We have Kate Thompson on our team who can light it up, and we have Rachel and Sam Arnold and anybody.

“I just think we kept our composure really well tonight, and we can do it (again).”