Flaherty and Thome nab Big Ten honors

Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 10:41am

Tuesday afternoon on Leap Day, Katelynn Flaherty made a big leap in her collegiate basketball career.

The sophomore guard’s performance on the court has been largely determined by her mentality and confidence over the last year and a half — on the nights she’s confident, she hits her shots; on the nights she doesn’t, it’s up to the rest of the offense to balance out the attack.

But after 29 regular-season games this year, and an entire freshman season capped off by a WNIT semifinal run, Flaherty has most definitely found her groove, and it has earned her a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team.

Alongside Michigan’s top scorer was its second-leading scorer, freshman center Hallie Thome, who became the second straight freshman (after Flaherty) to be named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team.

Together, the deadly duo has averaged 36.8 points in the regular season and have been largely responsible for the Wolverines’ success, which has earned them the No. 8 seed in Thursday’s Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

For Flaherty, she has made huge strides this season and is the fourth player in program history to make the conference’s first team, the first since Jennifer Smith in 2004. Instead of relying solely on her outside shot, Flaherty has become a much greater presence on the inside by making more drives to the basket, especially on the fast break.

After a 499-point freshman season — leading ahead of Michigan’s successful senior class of Cyesha Goree, Nicole Elmblad and Shannon Smith — Flaherty helped Michigan make it to the WNIT semifinals, where it lost to UCLA. But the loss must have been motivating factor in a breakout second season.

In only one season, Flaherty had has six 30-point plus games, has hit 88 3-pointers and has scored 646 points — the latter two rank second in Michigan’s single-season record book. The conference’s third-leading scorer is just 14 points away from beating Jennifer Smith’s single-season scoring record of 659 points, and she was the second-fastest in Michigan history to reach 1,000 points.

As for Thome, she has been a dominant inside presence for the team. Though she is not their leading rebounder, the 6-foot-5 center is a crucial component to the team’s success. Her height allows her to sit inside the paint and possess the ball over the heads of the defense, making it easy to turn, finish a layup and get quick points in transition.

Thome’s biggest impact has come from the charity stripe, where she is 77-for-119, a team high in attempts. She also has a team-leading 34 blocks, which has allowed the Wolverines to outrebound opponents on the glass offensively and defensively.

But Thome’s team-leading 95 fouls have been the thorn in her side this season. Down the stretch, she can run into trouble and fouled out of the game in tight situations. Luckily for Michigan, sophomore forward Jillian Dunston, the leading rebounder, and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell have been reliable backups in the absence of Thome.

As Thome works on her free-throw shooting and staying away from foul trouble late in the game, her shooting has been the most consistent aspect of her game. This season, she has posted a .642 field-goal percentage, good for third in the Big Ten and the NCAA.

It’s the consistency from Flaherty and Thome that could help the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 17-12 overall) beat No. 9 Iowa on Thursday. It’s the consistency that could help them also make a deep run in the conference tournament, even with a possible matchup against No. 1 Maryland on Friday. Given the strengths of Flaherty and Thome, as well as the entire Michigan squad, a deep run is not out of the question.