‘Great balance’ leads to win over Hoosiers

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published March 6, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Just a few minutes into Thursday’s game against Indiana in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan women’s basketball team was struggling.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico looked tired and sick from a bout of nausea that presented itself just hours before tip off. The arena — an impartial site — housed a crowd predominately dressed in red and white. And the Wolverines’ baskets weren’t falling. Down by five early on, Michigan needed a spark.

Enter Siera Thompson.

Once again Thompson showed she is a freshman, but a freshman in age alone.

The point guard got her first points of the game from the right elbow, with a contested jumper, bringing Michigan (9-8 Big Ten, 18-12 overall) within one. After a foul on Hoosier freshman guard Larryn Brooks, Thompson brought the ball up the court. Circulating around the perimeter, the ball found itself back in Thompson’s hands in her sweet spot — the right corner.

But like all of Michigan’s 3-pointers up to that point, the shot was short. Junior forward Cyesha Goree grabbed the rebound and found Thompson again — this time on the left side. With just a moment’s hesitation, Thompson sized up the basket and drained the triple, giving the Wolverines a 13-11 lead.

After that, Michigan never looked back, squashing the Hoosiers, 82-57.

“Our team is very leveled and scoring comes from a lot of places,” Thompson said. “That’s why I think it’s hard to stop us. So when one person’s off another person will step up and score.”

After Thompson’s five straight points handed the Wolverines their lead, she went cold quickly. And after scoring just eight points in the first half and two in the second half Michigan had to look elsewhere.

Enter Goree.

Like she’s done all season, Goree assumed a physical role, leading all scorers with 18 hard-earned points and 11 rebounds. Goree ended several plays on the ground including a bad fall with 7:51 remaining that took her out for the rest of the game with leg cramps. Its safe to assume, however, that she would’ve been back on the court had the team needed her.

As Thompson went cold, and Goree left the game, the Wolverines needed someone to help stretch the floor.

Enter Madison Ristovski.

The sophomore guard came off the bench to hit two 3-pointers in the first half as well as several contested layups. But coming out in the second half, like most of the Wolverines had, she went cold, allowing Indiana (5-12, 18-12) to claw back within 10 — six times.

While Michigan missed shots, and as several Wolverines ran into foul trouble, the team needed more help.

Enter Smith and forward Nicole Elmblad.

Like they’ve been all season the two juniors were emblems of offensive consistency in the second half. After Smith went 1-for-6 in the first half, she dropped 11 more, including a contested 3-pointer, that put Michigan up by 17 in the second frame.

It was a similar story for Elmblad, who not only made her presence felt on the offensive side — she ended the game with 15 points and 11 rebounds — but also on the defensive end where she drew three charges, including two within 65 seconds in the second half.

“We knew that if we went inside early and established Cyesha early they would look to double that,” Barnes Arico said. “And that would open (up) Shannon and Nicole. And it did.

“When we are at our best we have great balance and that’s what we had tonight.”

The Wolverines’ ability to spread the offense not only rattled an Indiana team, but also its coach, Curt Miller. While on the sideline Miller often threw his hands in the air when his defense allowed Michigan its fluid ball movement. At one point Miller was so displeased by his squad’s defensive set up that he jumped up and down until a pen flew out of his coat pocket.

The moment after Thompson drained her triple, the Wolverines needed team basketball to win convincingly.

So everybody entered.