First-half defense propels Michigan to victory
On paper, one would be quick to heap much of the praise for the Michigan women’s basketball team’s 67-60 win over Kent State onto junior guard Katelynn Flaherty. She played an integral part in the Wolverines’ victory, scoring 22 points, pulling down five rebounds and garnering three assists.
But another glance would reveal that Michigan’s defense deserves a huge amount of credit for the Wolverines’ advancement to the second round of the Women's National Invitation Tournament. Michigan stymied the Golden Flashes, holding them to an abysmal 18.8 percent shooting percentage, including just 2-of-10 from 3-point range, in the first half.
“I thought we established ourselves in the first half on the defensive end with our pressure,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “And then we were able to get some stops, which led to some easy buckets for us in transition.”
The Wolverines formed their defensive wall right away. Kent State managed to sink only one of its first 10 shots in the first quarter, which Michigan took advantage of to open up a 13-4 lead. Though the Golden Flashes shot marginally better the rest of the frame — they finished the quarter 5-for-18 from the floor — Flaherty’s nine points kept the Wolverines ahead 23-14 at the end of the quarter.
Michigan proved to be an even more effective bulwark in the second stanza. Kent State attempted 15 shots in the second quarter and made only one — a layup just over a minute before halftime. The Wolverines’ impenetrable fortress allowed them to take a 43-22 lead into the intermission.
“In the first half I feel like we were active,” Flaherty said. “We knew our personnel well.”
Added sophomore center Hallie Thome: “I think having our hands up, getting touches and being able to get tips and steals really allowed us to get fast-break layups. And then also just being tough and diving for the ball and getting loose balls was key.”
Though the Golden Flashes’ shots began falling at a much more respectable 40.7 percent clip in the second half, which pulled them within five points of Michigan with two minutes left in the game, the cushion the Wolverines built up early on allowed them to hang on for the victory. Even with the shooting improvements, Kent State’s shooting percentage for the game remained at just 32.4 percent, and 23.5 percent from behind the arc.
Thursday night’s win gave Michigan its 23rd victory of the season — a new program record. While the Wolverines are still bitterly disappointed that they were left out of the NCAA Tournament, they still have the opportunity to accomplish another first, as Michigan has never won a WNIT championship.
If the Wolverines defense can play even close to as well as it did in the first half against Kent State, they can compete with anyone in the WNIT field as they hope to hang their first banner in Crisler Center.