Michigan lines up for battle with the Hoosiers at home
The Michigan women’s basketball team is looking for redemption.
After traveling to No. 11 Ohio State and dropping the game 96-87, the Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) are eager to move past the loss to their rival. A win against Indiana (2-1, 12-4) on Tuesday night could prevent a jarring loss of momentum for Michigan.
The Hoosiers played the Buckeyes on Dec. 31, also losing, 92-82. Their common loss, and the closeness of both teams’ records, would suggest that Indiana and the Wolverines are almost equals and could be the perfect matchup for an exciting game.
But Michigan may be able to take the edge, as junior guard and leading scorer Katelynn Flaherty appears to have returned to form.
While Flaherty has been essential in every game this season, she recently went through a lackluster period compared to her usual high-scoring self. Against Wisconsin on Jan. 1, Flaherty managed just eight points. But she found her mojo once more against Ohio State, stunning those in attendance with a career-high 38-point performance.
Her eight 3-pointers against the Buckeyes set a new program record, and her postgame attitude showed that she was confident in her capabilities despite the slump.
“I just try to do what my team needs me to do,” Flaherty said Saturday after the game. “And today it was scoring. So I think I was really persistent with that, and I knew that I need to score to help us be successful.”
Added Ohio State coach Kevin Gruff: “That’s one of the byproducts of letting (Flaherty) get so comfortable early in the game, now all the sudden you’re dealing with her feeling good the whole way out. I thought our effort on her got better as the game went, but she was feeling so good that she was making really tough shots. She’s a great player.”
While a repeat performance might be tough to attain, Flaherty will have momentum and confidence, which will be a dangerous combination for Indiana to defend against.
Junior forward Jillian Dunston and senior guard Siera Thompson were also game-changers for Michigan against Ohio State, and while they did not sink quite as many baskets as Flaherty, the duo was effective in other areas of the court.
Dunston has been an important defensive presence for the Wolverines all season, and with her double-double last game, she reminded onlookers that she is effective on both ends of the court. While her eight defensive rebounds and 10 points weren’t enough to shift the tide of the game in Michigan’s favor, Dunston earned twice as many defensive rebounds as the next highest Wolverine.
Thompson was the only Michigan player to stay on the court for all 40 minutes — unsurprising to anyone who has heard Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico discuss the impact of her co-captain on the rest of the team.
Against the Buckeyes, Thompson dished out 10 assists and was just two points shy of her own double-double. Thompson currently has a team-high 92 assists on the season and will need to continue catalyzing the offense in order for the Wolverines to win against Indiana.
While Flaherty, Dunston, and Thompson will attempt to build on their successes from last game, sophomore forward Hallie Thome will be trying to rectify her impact.
“Hallie Thome picked up her second foul,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought that was critical. We were outrebounding them in the first quarter, and then we lost our 6-foot-5 inside presence and then we drastically dropped down and went small. We didn’t have the same defensive or offensive presence that we did with her in the game.”
Despite fouling out, Thome still picked up 13 points, in 23 minutes — the second-most productive offensive performance for Michigan.
Having Thome on the court is necessary for the Wolverines to win. Her field goal percentage this season sits at 63.5 percent — higher than any team average in the NCAA. Thome netted 37 points in her Jan. 1 performance against Wisconsin, which was by far Michigan’s best performance of the night, and Thome’s own career high.
Even without Thome, the main reason that the Wolverines could not defend against the Buckeyes last game was the sheer depth that Ohio State possessed, with six different players scoring in the double-digits. While that type of game is an anomaly, it proves that an entire team effort is needed to be successful in conference play.
Michigan cannot rely on just its starting five. The players coming off the bench, like sophomore guard Nicole Munger, have to be ready to perform at their peak.
It would also help the Wolverines if Flaherty and Thome played their best game at the same time. Lately, it seems as though they have been alternating strong showings with less inspiring performances. Though each player is capable of leading Michigan on her own, a standout performance from both leading scorers in the same game could certainly seal a win for the Wolverines.
If Flaherty and Thome can manage that, the Hoosiers could be in for a barrage of some of the most accurate shooting they have faced thus far.