Wolverines claw their way back to maul the Wildcats

Sam Mousigian/Daily
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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 17, 2015

After just three minutes, the Michigan women’s basketball team was down 9-0, and it seemed like the Wolverines’ road woes traveled with them to Evanston.

But tonight was different.

This time, the home team’s lead evaporated before the Wolverines took an insurmountable lead en route to a 73-66 win over Northwestern on Saturday night.

Unlike at Rutgers, where the Wolverines closed a 19-point deficit to zero before going behind again, Michigan took the lead in the second half and never looked back.

But it was the defense that Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico attributed most to the comeback.

“It really started with our defense,” Barnes Arico said. “In the first half, they went up early and we switched our defense and kind of slowed them down a little bit.”

The Wolverines started out the game playing a full-court press, which worked successfully against opponents such as Michigan State and, at times, Ohio State.

But the Wildcats were ready for the defense and broke the press early and often with top scorers Maggie Lyon and Nia Coffey getting easy buckets in transition.

So Barnes Arico changed up her defense to the only thing that would keep the top scorers in check: half-court man-to-man defense.

And it worked like a charm, with Coffey finishing with just six points.

“Early, we tried to press them and they broke that and got a bunch of baskets in transition,” Barnes Arico said. “Then we tried to go 2-3 on misses, and we really weren’t able to locate the scorers in transition. So we just played half-court man, and it was effective for us.”

On the other end of the court, senior guard Shannon Smith and sophomore guard Siera Thompson led the way with 20 points apiece. But the way each obtained their points was different.

Smith scored most of her points in transition, including an acrobatic layup late in the first half that awed even the Northwestern bench.

“(Smith has) been incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s been playing at another level. We want the ball in her hands when the shot clock is running down because she’s able to make some big plays for us.”

For Thompson, she stuck with her bread and butter: the 3-point shot.

On a night where freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty — Michigan’s leading scorer — went 0-for-5 from behind the arc, Thompson excelled, hitting five of nine 3-point shots including key shots at the ends of both halves.

Down low, senior forward Cyesha Goree was her usual self and led the way for the bigs with 16 points. But senior forward Nicole Elmblad led the team in rebounds with nine.

While Michigan still has a tough schedule ahead with the bulk of the Big Ten schedule still remaining, a win over a team undefeated at home will do wonders for a team that has struggled on the road.

“Anytime you have a win against a really good opponent, it gives you confidence,” Barnes Arico said. “If you can do it on the road, even better, and if you can do it and play well like we did in the second half tonight, I think it’s definitely going to help us moving forward.”