Wolverines survive late scare to advance to third round of WNIT
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The revenge tour will continue for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
While nothing may alleviate the sting of getting snubbed from the NCAA Tournament on Monday, the Wolverines (24-9) have survived the first two games of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, enduring a fourth-quarter scare to win their second round game over Wright State (25-9), 71-66, on Saturday.
“In March, anytime you’re playing a tournament — it doesn’t matter what tournament — people are gonna come and give you their best shot. Wright State did that tonight.” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “But for us to find a way to win at this point in March, I was really proud of the way that were able to do that down the stretch.”
The direction of the game seemed to be apparent from the opening tipoff. Michigan had the clear height and strength advantage down low, attacking the paint often for its first 14 points of the match — eight from sophomore center Hallie Thome — before the Wolverines went to the free-throw line. Michigan’s defense followed suit in the first quarter, limiting the Raiders to just a 21.9 shooting percentage from the field to end the frame ahead, 23-12.
The second quarter proved to be much of the same — stingy defense and production from Thome, who hit her first seven field goals of the game. Wright State attempted to double Thome, but it ultimately spaced the floor to allow other Wolverines like junior guard Katelynn Flaherty and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick to drive to the hoop. Neither Flaherty nor Gondrezick established a rhythm from beyond the arc throughout the game, but still managed to combine for 29 of Michigan’s points.
The Raiders were able to capture some momentum toward the end of the half by capitalizing on six Wolverine turnovers to narrow their deficit to 10, but that swing quickly came to a close after Gondrezick buried a halfcourt buzzer-beater to give Michigan a 45-32 lead headed into halftime.
“We practice that every day at shootaround,” Barnes Arico said. “As coaches we were taking votes on who is our best halfcourt shooter and Kysre was my pick, so I was glad she had the ball in her hands. … She knew the situation and made a play.”
Wright State turned up the pace in third quarter, running a full court press and charging toward the basket every time it brought the ball up the floor. The Wolverines struggled to adjust, and their lead dwindled to as little as four points until a Gondrezick trey halted the Raiders’ run. That seven-point lead would hold for the remaining five minutes of the quarter.
The final period began as a back-and-forth battle, but Wright State eventually mounted an 8-0 run to take its first lead of the game with 4:52 remaining. A number of Michigan’s shots circled the rim during the run and there was visible frustration on the court, but junior forward Jillian Dunston utilized a timeout to rally the Wolverines.
“She kept going to the huddle and she was being positive (saying) ‘Coach, we’ve got this,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “She was telling the team ‘Hey, we’ve got this, just get stops on the defensive end. Let’s just go continue to play hard, we’re okay.’ ”
Added Dunston: “I think we get uptight. Our layups were in and out, our shots were in and out, we couldn’t get a stop. Once we calmed down, the game went in our favor.”
After the timeout, an and-one by Thome gave Michigan a lead that it wouldn’t give it up, as the Raiders scored only once more in the game. They pulled within one in the final minute, but a Thome putback with 40 seconds remaining and a defensive stop solidified the win.
The victory sets up a possible third-round match with St. John’s, where Barnes Arico was the head coach for 10 seasons before assuming the same position with the Wolverines in 2012.