Thompson sparks women's basketball with clutch shots

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By Max Cohen, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 7, 2014

Siera Thompson rarely misses free throws. And when the freshman guard was fouled with 5.6 seconds left in the Michigan women’s basketball game at Northwestern with the game tied, she did what she always does — made her free throws.

After her team dropped two consecutive games in decisive fashion last week, Thompson delivered the Wolverines the remedy to their recent woes in the 70-68 victory over the Wildcats (4-6 Big Ten, 14-9 overall).

“I try not to put too much pressure on myself,” Thompson said. “I tried to be calm. They were big shots, but I tried to be calm because if I’d have let the pressure get to me, I’d have missed. I knew my teammates had confidence in me.”

Thompson’s teammates had good reason to be confident — Thompson shoots 92 percent from the free throw line. Her free throws capped off a second half in which she provided Michigan (6-4, 15-8) with a bevy of offensive firepower, hitting timely shots when her team needed her the most. Before her free throws, with the game teetering on the brink and Northwestern pressuring, the guard hit a 3-pointer from the right wing with 2:38 left to extend the Wolverines’ lead to four.

Thompson unleashed her full arsenal of 3-pointers on the Wildcats. With Michigan down one with 11 minutes left in the game, Thompson drained her second 3-pointer of the game. Then, she hit two more treys in the Wolverines’ next three possessions to catapult Michigan to a five-point lead. Michigan never trailed again.

Before her timely shooting, the Wolverines were heading towards familiar territory. Similarly to last week’s game against Minnesota, Michigan watched a halftime lead evaporate early in the second half when Northwestern embarked on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 39. This time, Thompson’s 16 second-half points on her way to a career-high 25 saved the Wolverines from a similar fate.

“After they made that run, our tendency has been to fall apart,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “And tonight, we had to battle back. It was great to see our team take those next steps forward.”

Thompson wasn’t Michigan’s sole focus early on as it started off the game strong and maintained control throughout the first half. The Wolverines pieced together runs of 8-0, 12-0 and 6-0 in the first half, but they never pulled away because of the Wildcats’ spot-on 3-point shooting. Northwestern shot 6-for-10 from deep in the first half, bailing out its turnover-prone offense. Michigan scored 16 points off the Wildcats’ 10 first-half tunovers, fueling its 37-30 halftime advantage.

The Wolverines established an inside presence on the 8-0 run after the Wildcats scored the game’s first basket. Three of Michigan’s baskets on the run came around the rim, a surprise against the Big Ten’s leading shot-blocking team. Junior forward Cyesha Goree scored two of the inside baskets on the early run and parlayed her early success into 10 first-half points to go with four rebounds.

The Wolverines’ success in the paint early helped open the perimeter later for Thompson in the second half. Northwestern’s outside shooting was also formidable. The Wildcats knocked down 12 treys throughout the game, taking advantage of Michigan’s susceptible defense beyond the arc. With the second-half surge, the Wolverines were able to avoid a similar fate to their previous two games.

“Those two losses definitely humbled us,” Thompson said.

Her repeated clutch shots also helped.