EVANSTON — At 5-foot-5, freshman Becky Flippin was the smallest player on the court in last night’s game against Northwestern. But her impact was anything but tiny. The point guard stepped up big off the bench, scoring a career- and game-high 17 points in 28 minutes of action.
“She had a great performance,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “It was definitely her best performance of the year.”
Taking advantage of her teammates’ strong dribble penetration in the first half, Flippin wasted no time establishing her outside shooting presence. Soon after entering the game, she took a beautiful crosscourt pass from freshman captain Krista Clement and swished a triple.
“It was all my teammates,” Flippin said. “They got me open.”
Flippin’s hot hand continued throughout the game, as she finished 6-for-8 from the field, including five 3-pointers. Her touch from beyond the arc seemed to energize the rest of Flippin’s play, and her aggressive drives through the lane in the second half set up solid scoring opportunities for the Wolverines. With Michigan nursing a 48-47 lead with just under seven minutes to play in the game, Flippin weaved her way between the taller Wildcats and scored on an impressive lefty lay-up. Soon after, she drove the lane and dished to freshman Ta’Shia Walker for a wide open jump shot, one of her team-high four assists.
“We’ve asked Becky to create and dribble penetrate,” Burnett said. “And she did a great job of that.”
Flippin’s play was even more impressive considering her struggles of late. After beginning the season in the starting lineup, Flippin has come off the bench in the Wolverines’ last three contests. Initially, the move had an adverse effect on Flippin’s production: She hadn’t scored in Michigan’s last two games. But against the Wildcats, Flippin showed off her enormous potential.
“Becky is always a great shooter and a great penetrator,” Clement said. “It’s so fun to see her coming into her game and playing how Becky Flippin plays.”
Defensive Inconsistency: At times, the Wolverines’ defense seemed impregnable. Michigan’s man-to-man intensity brought about a number of Northwestern scoring droughts. The Wildcats couldn’t find the bucket for a six-minute stretch in the first half and had two separate five-minute scoreless runs in the second half. But when the Wildcats got going, they ran all over Michigan. Northwestern’s hottest shooting came at the worst possible time for the Wolverines, and the Wildcats poured in 15 points in the last four minutes to pull away.
“We just have to come out and play the whole entire game,” Flippin said. “We can’t let little things get to us.”
Small but Loud: Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena had the feel of a high school gym, as the upper levels were curtained off. While the crowd numbered in the low hundreds (an official attendance estimate was not released), the few fans at the game made their presence felt. After senior captain Tabitha Pool threw up an air ball midway through the first half, a small but rowdy group of fans serenaded her with chants of “air ball,” and they later renewed the chant whenever Pool touched the ball. When Northwestern pulled ahead near the end, the crowd added insult to injury by taunting the Wolverines with chants of “Texas Longhorns,” mocking the Michigan football team’s 38-37 defeat in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.