Wolverines blow by Indiana in first round of Big Ten tournament

Alex Galel/Daily
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By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 6, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — It was a rocky start for Siera Thompson and the Michigan women’s basketball team.

The public address announcer at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was having trouble with her name, and Indiana’s Larryn Brooks had left her standing flat-footed with a nasty crossover dribble and jumper to give the Hoosiers a five-point lead in the opening minutes.

Things weren’t going any better for Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, who came down with a stomach illness after spending the previous night tending to her five-year-old daughter, who was also under the weather. She was stone-faced and rigid for the game’s first several minutes, a far cry from her typical beam-of-energy demeanor on the sidelines.

But when Thompson drained a 3-pointer with 13:44 left in the first half, she gave Michigan a 13-11 lead, and everything was back in its right place. And the energy Barnes Arico lacked on the bench was made up for by her players on the court, where junior forward Cyesha Goree led the first-half charge with 10 points and nine rebounds.

The Wolverines ultimately coasted to an 82-57 victory and advanced to the tournament’s second round, where they’ll meet Michigan State.

“Before the game, I said, ‘guys, I might need to lean on you a little bit today,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “And then after the game they were giving me hugs. … I hope I didn’t give them any germs.”

In a rematch of a Feb. 19 clash between two of the Big Ten’s best freshmen, Thompson stepped up in a big way after Brooks’ early-game handles display. Brooks didn’t score again until there just over five minutes in the first half — a testament to Thompson’s work on the defensive end.

Junior guard Shannon Smith dashed any hopes of a major Indiana rally with a coast-to-coast drive and layup early in the second half that pushed Michigan’s lead to 12. The Hoosiers cut the lead to just 10 points six different times, but the Wolverines held firm, never allowing it to shrink into single digits.

“They make a run, we’ve got to make a run back,” Smith said.

A controversial charge called on Indiana’s Tabitha Gerardot wiped away a basket that would have whittled the lead to eight, and the momentum stayed on Michigan’s side for the duration. The game became even more chippy midway through the half when Goree and Brooks became entangled following Michigan inbounds pass. Soon after, Smith got tied up with Indiana’s Taylor Agler chasing a loose ball near midcourt, and remained undeterred by size disadvantages throughout the game.

“She makes me look like Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Barnes Arico said in reference to Smith’s wiry frame. “She gets knocked around all the time, but she got in there and she got two big, big offensive rebounds and putbacks.”

The downpour of verbal displeasure raining down from the several sections of Crimson-clad Hoosier fans might have gotten under the Wolverines’ skin, as it took a few sloppy possessions and an errant pass from sophomore guard Madison Ristovski to right the ship. Indiana couldn’t capitalize, though, and a pair of layups from Goree and junior forward Nicole Elmblad stretched the lead to 14 with less than eight minutes remaining.

Goree never returned to the game after she spent several minutes on the sideline and locker room working to treat severe leg cramps she suffered after taking a charge.

Any fears of Goree’s prolonged absence were quickly quelled, though, as the Wolverines extended the lead to nearly 30 points late in the game, setting up an in-state showdown Friday evening with the Spartans.