Youth leads Wolverines past Hoosiers
Following an exhilarating overtime loss to then-No.10 Ohio State, the No. 23 Michigan women’s basketball team looked to clinch a routine win against Indiana Wednesday night.
But there was nothing routine about it.
With under four minutes remaining in a tied game, senior guard Katelynn Flaherty passed the ball to freshman forward Hailey Brown, who nailed an elbow jumper to give her team the lead.
The Wolverines went on to win, 84-79, at Crisler Center, but it didn’t come the way they expected. The team’s stars — Flaherty and junior center Hallie Thome — were closely guarded from the start and struggled to score early on. Meanwhile, Michigan’s defense couldn’t seem to limit the Hoosiers, causing a close game.
But two of the Wolverines’ three freshmen — Brown and guard Deja Church — stepped up, leading the team to victory on a night that reeked of upset.
Brown started hot, accounting for eight of Michigan’s first 10 points. She went on to finish with a career-high 23 points, while grabbing eight rebounds. It was a special night for the Canada-native.
“It felt good,” Brown said. “It was different cause a lot of people were asking if I was in my zone, but every shot just felt good. I guess once you start hitting them you become more confident.”
Added Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico: “I thought Hailey was terrific. … It’s incredible when you have different people step up.”
Church’s contributions were also impressive. Though she finished with just nine points, a few of her baskets helped prevent the Wolverines from falling behind early.
The contributions from these two freshmen couldn’t have come at a better time, as Michigan looked out of sync from the beginning of a contest it couldn’t afford to lose.
But Brown’s stellar performance along with Church’s contributions gave Michigan the spark it needed, creating breathing room for others in the process.
The duo’s success shows how much they have grown throughout the season. Though Church is a reserve, she has already established herself as the first player to come off the bench and receives significant playing time. Whenever the Wolverines find themselves in a slump, they look to her to energize the team with her quick, confident style of play.
“Deja Church is key for us,” Barnes Arico said. “She runs our team. She is a good defender, she’s the fastest kid we have on our team, so she provides a lot of things for us and tonight we saw her again getting better and better. I think as the season progresses, she’s gonna be a kid that just improves the more experience she gets and the more the basketball is in her hand. But she’s a sponge — she’s willing to learn and she really contributed great minutes to us tonight.”
Brown, on the other hand, has started every game this season, and her improvements have been crucial to her team’s success. In her first game for Michigan — against George Mason back in early November — she went 2-for-11 from the field to finish with just four points. But she improved week by week, and Wednesday she thrived, going 10-for-12. Her confident shooting made the difference.
“(Brown) missed like two shots all night,” said junior guard Nicole Munger. “You can’t guard that. You can’t guard that at all.”
Though the Wolverines faced problems against Indiana, the quality play from the freshmen saved them from a potentially devastating defeat, while also providing a promising glimpse into the future.