Thome's career day highlights two different Michigan teams

Wednesday, January 4, 2017 - 8:20pm

Sophomore center Hallie Thome in a game against Rutgers on Dec. 28.

Sophomore center Hallie Thome in a game against Rutgers on Dec. 28. Buy this photo
Claire Meingast/Daily

 

The Michigan women’s basketball team is familiar with the added intensity of Big Ten basketball.

After a solid 9-3 start to non-conference play in the 2015-16 season, the Wolverines faltered, going just 8-10 against conference foes and narrowly missing the NCAA Tournament.

This year, Michigan had another hot start. It went 11-3 in non-conference play this season and hopes to improve upon its Big Ten record from a year prior. It already has two double-digit wins against conference basement dwellers Rutgers and Wisconsin.

But upcoming games against top-25 teams like Maryland and Ohio State may paint a clearer picture of the kind of team that the Wolverines really are. But sophomore center Hallie Thome’s promising play in her first two Big Ten games this season revealed two completely different styles of play that Michigan can execute at a high level.

Against the Scarlet Knights, Thome was quiet but efficient. The 6-foot-5 center posted 10 points and five rebounds, with most of the offensive damage coming from the long-range shooting of freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick and junior guard Katelynn Flaherty.

It wasn’t the most noteworthy outing for Thome, but just four days later, she flipped the script.

Thome had a career game against the Badgers on New Year’s Day, registering 37 points on 13-for-15 shooting and 14 boards as Michigan cruised to an easy win. Even though Wisconsin had the height to match Thome — with five players over 6-foot-2 — she still managed to have her way down low and tally over half of the Wolverines’ 73 points.

Her dominance also improved her season totals to 14.6 points and 6.9 rebounds per game, and earned Thome her first career Big Ten Player of the Week honor.

“(Thome) ran the floor extremely well in transition,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She has such great hands and such great touch around the basket. She hadn’t had a game like that yet this season (or even) in her career. ... She was an incredible player.”

This Michigan team is known for its outside shooting. It is seventh in the country in 3-point field goal percentage (40.5) and has three effective scoring guards in its starting lineup. But Thome’s timely performance revealed that the Wolverines have the capability to be not just a threat beyond the arc, but all over the court.

According to Barnes Arico, her team’s offensive efficiency and Thome’s outburst can be attributed to putting Gondrezick in the lineup, who has been able to spread the floor and prevent double teams on often-targeted players like Flaherty and Thome.

Thome’s offensive onslaught also provided assurance that Michigan’s depth could rival more competitive teams. Even with four players in foul trouble — including Thome — going into halftime against the Badgers, the Wolverines still found a way to make adjustments and score 73 points.

“We had to mix up our lineup,” Barnes Arico said. “We were just trying to get to halftime and we felt like we would be in better shape in the third quarter.

“The third quarter seems to be our quarter this year. In both league games so far, we’ve been able to adjust. It’s taken a little bit of time, but in the third quarter we’ve been able to take advantage of opponents.”

Sixteen games into the season, and with one of its best starts in program history, it seems that Michigan is finally starting to form its identity. And to the misfortune of opposing teams, that identity is rooted in its circumstantial malleability — Michigan is able to modify its play to match the conditions of a game. But the question that remains to be answered is if it can do it right after tipoff, before its tougher conference games get out of hand.