First-half run keys women's basketball victory over Wisconsin

By Max Cohen, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 9, 2014

There was a pendulum-like flow to the opening nine minutes of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s Big Ten home opener against Wisconsin.

One team attacked and the other responded, and neither took more than a three-point lead until midway through the back-and-forth first half.

Then, the pendulum broke.

Sophomore guard Madison Ristovski sparked the Wolverines, leading a 19-5 run to give Michigan a lead that it never relinquished. The Wolverines survived a late Wisconsin rally to hold on for a 70-62 victory.

After starting the run with a dish inside to junior forward Cyesha Goree, Ristovski continued her personal streak, contributing to Michigan’s next seven points. Following a Wisconsin free throw that tied the game at 16, she gave the Wolverines the lead for good by hitting a 3-pointer, the team’s first of the night.

Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 11-4 overall) didn’t score its next basket for two minutes, but by then it could afford the brief lapse. The Wolverines created two turnovers and held the Badgers (1-1, 8-6) scoreless for three minutes, leading to a 7-0 run. From then on, the pendulum rarely swung back in Wisconsin’s favor.

“They’re going to get punches, we’re going to get punches,” Goree said. “It’s all about who can take the hit and hit the next punch harder. We kept fighting and we got our lead, and we kept building up our lead.”

Ristovski continued to use her hot hand when the Wolverines’ scoring resumed, finding junior guard Nicole Elmblad for a layup. Then, on Michigan’s next possession, the sophomore scored another of her own after an Elmblad offensive rebound. The Wolverines led 23-16 and didn’t slow down.

Before Wisconsin forward Jackie Gulczynski made a 3-pointer with 38 seconds left in the first half, Michigan held a 33-20 advantage. By the time the run was complete, Michigan had forced seven turnovers in 10 minutes and had given the ball away just three times in the entire first half.

Michigan displayed even more offensive firepower near the end of the first half. Freshman guard Siera Thompson drained a deep 3-pointer to extend the Wolverines’s lead to 26-18. Ristovski made the team’s second consecutive 3-pointer by hitting one in transition with 3:19 left in the half, finishing her seven-minute spurt of eight points and two assists.

“When she’s on the court, we’re usually doing pretty well,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.

The Wolverines closed out the half with a 35-23 lead, the product of the 19-5 run and the 11 turnovers they forced on defense. They hung on in the second half to improve to 11-0 this season when leading at the break.

The Wolverines continued a balanced scoring effort to extend their lead to 25 on two separate occasions in the second half. Four players scored in double figures for Michigan, led by Goree with 15.

“We have such a balanced attack,” Barnes Arico said. “On any given night, we can have five or six or sometimes even seven kids be our leading scorer. I think that puts a lot of pressure on other team’s defenses.”

It looked as if Michigan would cruise to victory, but the game abruptly swung back in the Badgers’ favor once the Wolverines took a 60-35 lead.

Wisconsin strung together a late 23-4 run, cutting the lead to single digits for the first time since the first half. But Michigan halted the near-comeback with solid free-throw shooting in the final minutes to escape at home.