With Thompson, Michigan finds an answer from the free-throw line and beyond the arc

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By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 27, 2014

When it comes to underclassmen with a nasty habit of taking over games at the Crisler Center by raining down outside shots, Siera Thompson doesn’t get much attention.

But over the last few months, the freshman guard has quietly climbed the ranks of the best shooters in women’s college basketball. She currently sits in seventh place nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage — her conversion rate of 47.1 percent is best in the Big Ten.

Thompson’s consistency has been remarkable, particularly for a freshman. She also ranks seventh in free-throw shooting, having missed only five of her 57 attempts this year. While Penn State’s Maggie Lucas and her next-to-perfect mark of 96.6 percent on foul shots are beyond untouchable, Thompson has also established herself as the nation’s top freshman free-throw shooter.

On both lists, Thompson is the only freshman in the top 10, a fact that may have played a role in her emergence as Michigan’s go-to sharpshooter.

“I think (the gym) was kind of her place to come when she was getting adjusted,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “That’s where she would find her peace.”

Having arrived in Ann Arbor in early June, Thompson had plenty of time to get acclimated before the start of the season. But hoisting up hundreds of shots per day was hardly a new routine — if anything, it was the norm.

“I was always in the gym,” she said. “I’d get as many shots up as I could before conditioning.”

Thompson’s only recent off night came Thursday against Ohio State, when she was far from the only Wolverine whose shots wouldn’t fall. And despite going only 1-for-6 on 3-pointers, Thompson rose from 10th to seventh in the country in 3-point percentage.

“The move from California was a big one for her,” Barnes Arico said of Thompson, a Los Angeles-area native. “But I know her dad trained her every single day. They’d be in the park … that was her summer job.”

Opponents have begun to recognize Thompson’s long-range abilities, meaning her presence serves only to spread the defense wider for the Wolverines’ ever-improving inside players, namely junior forward Cyesha Goree.

The 3-point-shooting duties, interestingly, seem to have been passed from one Thompson to the next. Kate Thompson (no relation) graduated in May after breaking Michigan’s all-time records for career 3-pointers made and 3-pointers made in a single season. Similarly, her efforts created many low-post opportunities for Rachel Sheffer, another recent graduate, who ranks 12th on Michigan’s list of all-time leading scorers.

Thompson’s success hasn’t gone without recognition — she picked up her first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award on Jan. 20. After her rough outing against the Buckeyes, she recovered on Sunday to pace the Wolverines with 13 points in their 60-44 road win over Wisconsin. While sophomore guard Madison Ristovski shouldered the distribution and free-throw shooting loads, Thompson took care of business from the outside, converting on all three of her triple attempts.

“She just has such a smooth stroke,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s a little unorthodox, maybe because she’s smaller.”

Barnes Arico was referring to Thompson’s tendency to push the ball from the right side, using both hands for power more than the typical youth basketball coach might like to see. But her stroke is working, and has become an integral part of a remarkable Michigan resurgence for a team that was expected by most to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten standings. But when Thompson can connect from deep on a consistent basis — which is more often than not — the Wolverines can play with any team in the conference.