By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 6, 2013
While the Michigan men’s basketball team took on Iowa back in Ann Arbor on Sunday, the women’s team did battle with Iowa in Iowa City in a matchup of teams with nearly identical records and momentum on their side. With both teams riding seven-game winning streaks and receiving votes each in the AP poll, Sunday’s matchup would provide an opportunity for one team to potentially jump into the Top-25.
After losing both matchups against the Hawkeyes last season and 44 of 58 games in the series, the Wolverines relied early on senior Kate Thompson and her nation leading 3.96 3-pointers per game and senior Rachel Sheffer to win, 68-64.
After her team fell behind, 10-3, to begin the game, Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico refused to call a timeout despite the sub-par start. The decision would pay off as they scored the next eight points to take the lead.
“I did look up and I think it was 16:40 something and I said ‘okay, we can probably get through until the media timeout’ ” Barnes Arico said. “I was torn and I said ‘we’ll fight through it.’ And we did.”
Following the regrouping, the Wolverines came out firing, led by Thompson, who made four of her first five 3-point attempts to give Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 13-2 overall) a 19-14 lead after a bit more than ten minutes of action.
While Thompson cooled off in the second half, scoring just two points, she had 17 in the first and 19 overall. Meanwhile, Sheffer remained hot in both halves, scoring 10 points on 3-for-4 shooting in the first half and 16 on 5-for-9 shooting in the second stanza to finish with a career-high 26 points and five rebounds.
Coming into the game, the Wolverines’ senior class of Thompson, Sheffer, Jenny Ryan, Sam Arnold and Nya Jordan had accounted for 79 percent of Michigan’s scoring this year. In the first half alone, Thompson, Sheffer and Jordan had 33 of the team’s 35 points. Ultimately the trio would finish with 52 points.
The Wolverines outshot the Hawkeyes 56.5 percent to 39 percent in the first stanza. But the Wolverines’ lead only stood at five, 35-30, due to a core group of four for Hawkeyes, led by sophomore guard Melissa Dixon, who had 11 points off the bench, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer that carried momentum for the Hawkeyes (1-1 Big Ten, 12-4 overall).
“Melissa Dixon really hurt us in the first half,” Barnes Arico said. “We knew we were going to have to make an adjustment in the second half and try to take her away.”
With six first-half points each for senior Morgan Johnson, sophomore Samantha Logic and junior Theairra Taylor, the Hawkeyes kept the game close and within striking distance. Logic scored 16 total points and nearly had a triple-double with nine rebounds and nine assists. Dixon led the team with 17.
After making the first basket of the second half to cut the lead to three, it appeared as if Iowa was ready to use the momentum from the end of the first half and go on a run.
However Michigan would never trail in the half as Sheffer answered with her third 3-pointer of the game to push the Wolverines’ lead back to six.
While known as Michigan’s center and leading rebounder, Sheffer shined from behind the arc, hitting four of six attempts including one with 8:46 remaining to begin a 7-1 run that pushed the lead to 12 at 57-45 with the last two points coming on a Sheffer layup to trigger an Iowa timeout.
With five minutes left and the Wolverines holding an eleven-point lead, Michigan subbed out Sheffer, who had picked up her fourth foul with six minutes remaining in the game. After five straight points by the Hawkeyes to cut the deficit to six, Michigan received just its second basket of the day from its bench with a three-point play by Arnold.
Playing crunch-time minutes for the foul-ridden Sheffer, Arnold would provide a spark on the defensive end as well with a block on senior Jamie Printy after three straight offensive rebounds by Iowa.
“Different people stepped up, and it was amazing that people made plays when we needed them to make plays,” Barnes Arico said. “And I always think that’s a sign of a great team.”
But with Sheffer still on the bench with 1:01 remaining and the teams now separated by just two points following a Dixon 3-pointer and a three-point play by Printy, the Wolverines had to rely on their other seniors to clinch the game.
With two free throws made by Ryan and a key defensive stop ending with a rebound by Jordan — her seventh of the game, it appeared the game might have finally been clinched.
“Any time we can get the ball in Jenny’s hands, we feel good that she can make something happen,” said Barnes Arico of Ryan’s play in the end of the game.
Following a layup off a Sheffer turnover by Logic, Ryan came to the line again looking for at least one to ice the game. After missing the first, she hit the second to give Michigan a safe four-point lead and ultimately, the final point of the game.
While masked by the scoring of Sheffer and Thompson, Ryan finished with six points, seven rebounds, eight assists and three steals and the pivotal dagger to put the Hawkeyes away and separate these two similar teams for the time being.