Nebraska's Shepard wins post duel over Thome

Sunday, January 24, 2016 - 5:30pm

Hallie Thome couldn't match up with Nebraska's Jessica Shepard down low Sunday.

Hallie Thome couldn't match up with Nebraska's Jessica Shepard down low Sunday. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

 

The Michigan’s women basketball team’s 93-81 loss to Nebraska on Sunday featured a notable one-on-one matchup.

It was down in the paint, where two freshman centers duked it out for post dominance.

Michigan’s Hallie Thome and Nebraska’s Jessica Shepard met for the first time in their careers, and the latter came out on top.

The Wolverines (3-5 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) needed Thome to be at her best against Nebraska (5-3, 14-5), and even though she has been a reliable source of points and rebounds this season, Shepard dominated her in every facet of the game.

At first glance, the similarities between the two are striking. Thome is 6-foot-5, and Shepard is 6-foot-4. Both were Gatorade High School Player of the Year recipients in their home states, and both are on pace to have the best freshman seasons in their schools’ histories.

Thome won the opening tipoff, but she didn’t win anything else.

Shepard outrebounded Thome, 20-6, outscored her, 35-24, and also managed to stay out of foul trouble. The Cornhusker, who has scored over 25 points in three other Big Ten games this season, put up a performance impressive for someone even of her caliber.

Shepard’s 20 rebounds were a career high, and she is the first freshman in Nebraska history to have been named to the Naismith Player of the Year watch list.

Just six Nebraska freshmen have ever scored 400 points in one season, and Shepard is just two points away from that mark — not even midway through the Big Ten season.

“Today, you had the opportunity to see one of the best players in the country,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, referencing Shepard. “Hallie (Thome) might be a top freshman in the country. This young lady (Shepard) happens to be a freshman and is one of the best players in the country.”

The Wolverines did a decent job defending Shepard in the first quarter — she still scored seven points in the first 10 minutes, but she went for 23 in the second half, and Michigan could not slow her down.

Eleven of Shepard’s 20 rebounds came on the offensive glass, leading the Cornhuskers to 23 second-chance points, while Michigan had just 13.

“We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds for them,” said senior guard Madison Ristovksi. “They missed shots, but (Shepard) was able to just put them back up.”

Once Thome chalked up her fourth foul, the Cornhuskers found it easier to exploit the mismatch in the post. Barnes Arico subbed her out, and Michigan senior forward Kelsey Mitchell replaced Thome down low. Even Ristovski made an effort in the paint, but neither found success.

Thome eventually fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter, but by then Nebraska had sealed the win.

Barnes Arico couldn’t hold back with how impressed she was by Shepard.

“She is an unbelievable player. We didn’t have an answer for her. Shepard is just … she’s a monster.”