Michigan tops Rutgers for first time as Big Ten foes

Wednesday, December 28, 2016 - 6:04pm

Despite having its best non-conference record since the 2012 season, the Michigan women’s basketball team made a lineup change for its Big Ten opener.

Against Rutgers, freshman Kysre Gondrezick — the Wolverines’ third-leading scorer at 12.9 points per game — replaced senior Danielle Williams at the ‘2’ spot following an impressive 19-point, six-assist outing against American last Thursday.

According to Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, the move was made to relieve junior guard Katelynn Flaherty of the pressure to score and spread the floor.

Gondrezick relished her newfound role in the starting five, notching 18 points along with seven boards in the 63-50 win against Rutgers — Michigan’s first victory over the Scarlet Knights (0-1 Big Ten, 3-11 overall) as conference foes.

“Coming out I had butterflies, but I’m glad I didn’t play as if I had jitters,” Gondrezick said. “(Coach Barnes Arico) always tells me, ‘Everyone thinks you’re a scorer. To us, you’re a playmaker.’ I always get most excited when I make passes and we’re converting and making my teammates better.”

After dealing with some unfortunate bounces and a stout 2-3 zone defense, Michigan (1-0, 12-3) struggled to generate offense in the first half, scoring just 26 points in the frame to tie a season low. It's 63 points were also a season low.

Flaherty, often a familiar face on the stat sheet, was also in a shooting slump, going just 2-for-14 from the field.

“(Rutgers is) really strong and physical,” Barnes Arico said. “They’ll bump you and push you. … It was an adjustment for us in the first half against their zone and their physicality.”

But Michigan had a 2-3 zone of its own that Rutgers was struggling to penetrate. The Scarlet Knights were forced to chuck up a handful of long-range shots, leading to a 37.0 shooting percentage.

“We were pretty bad at (the 2-3) pre-Big Ten,” said junior forward Jillian Dunston. “We tried to work on it towards the end. We had some gaps that we were weak at, but today we held together for the most part. We’ve still got things to work on.”

While Rutgers ultimately outshot the Wolverines with four more field goals made, its aggressive defense also sent Michigan to the free throw line 31 times, dwarfing its own seven attempts.

Sophomore center Hallie Thome was zeroed in on by the Scarlet Knights from the get-go. But a lackluster first half for Thome was supplemented by the efforts of Dunston, who scored the Wolverines’ first five points and ended with 11 points and six rebounds.

As Michigan has consistently done throughout the season, it was able to bounce back from an uninspiring first half to pull away in the third quarter and eventually secure the victory. But with the Big Ten season officially underway, both the level of competition and the stakes are higher.

“Our preseason was long and a grind, but it prepared us for nights like this,” Barnes Arico said. “This is a great win. Obviously we want to improve and get better but it’s a great way to begin Big Ten play.”