Defense shines in exhibition game, leads Michigan to victory

Thursday, November 2, 2017 - 10:17pm

Junior guard Nicole Munger credited Michigan's defense for helping the Wolverines secure a victory.

Junior guard Nicole Munger credited Michigan's defense for helping the Wolverines secure a victory. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

Last spring, the Michigan women’s basketball team won the Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship game in triple overtime. Friday, before the Wolverines open their season with the Preseason WNIT, they’ll raise the championship banner.

No. 24 Michigan will face George Mason at Crisler Center. The game is the first round of the Preseason WNIT, which features 16 teams, including No. 9 Louisville and No. 11 Oregon.

The Patriots went 13-17 last season, but that record has little bearing on their current team. Kara Wright, their leading scorer, graduated, and they have four new freshmen.

George Mason also adds 6-foot-5 center Natalie Butler, a graduate transfer, who played for powerhouse UConn prior to joining the Patriots. Last season she played in 36 games for the Huskies, averaging 5.4 points and 5 rebounds per contest. She could be an important piece of the puzzle for George Mason, as it looks to improve.

The Wolverines, on the other hand, are coming off a 65-43 exhibition game against Grand Valley State. Michigan had some struggles, though, getting off to a sluggish start and turning the ball over 19 times. They managed to win against the Division II school despite the turnovers, but will need to control the ball better against a tougher team Friday night. The Wolverines have had a week to prepare for Friday’s game, though, and may have worked out their problems. It will be interesting to see if they can get into a rhythm earlier in the game.

Michigan returns three core players from last year, in senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, senior forward Jillian Dunston and junior center Hallie Thome. Flaherty led the team in the exhibition, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds.

Also playing for the Wolverines are freshman guard Deja Church and freshman forward Hailey Brown. They both shined in their exhibition debuts. Brown started in the game and scored 10 points, while Church put her hustle and solid defense on display, making a few crucial blocks and scoring eight points. They will likely see court action again on Friday.

The game will feature a battle under the basket between Thome and Butler, both of whom are 6-foot-5 centers. Whoever wins the matchup could give their team the upperhand.

It will be the first ever meeting between Michigan and the Patriots, with the winner advancing to the second round of the tournament to be played on Sunday.