Saturday, freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty entered the locker room at halftime scoreless. For most squads, a top-scorer not producing for a full half would spell out defeat.
But the Michigan women’s basketball team isn’t like most teams.
The Wolverines don’t have one standout player to lean on, but that’s OK, because a different star emerges seemingly every game. Saturday against Northwestern, that star was sophomore guard Siera Thompson.
While Flaherty floundered during a high-pressure away game, Thompson shot 5-of-9 from long range, scoring 20 points to compensate for the freshman’s uncharacteristically low eight points.
“Siera is a tremendous shooter,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico told WKTA Radio on Tuesday. “But she’s kind of been a little bit quieter this year and people haven’t talked much about her, because Katelynn came in and is really picking up some scoring. Both of them, I think, have made over 40 threes on the season.
“Siera does so much, but a lot of times, it’s quiet, and that’s just her personality as well.”
With Thompson’s heroics, the Wolverines (4-2 Big Ten, 12-5 overall) picked up their first road win of the season. That’s not to say that no one else contributed, though. Senior guard Shannon Smith and senior forward Cyesha Goree scored 20 and 18 points, respectively.
Flaherty, Thompson, Goree and Smith average more than 10 points per game, with Goree leading the way, with 14.7. But in the last three games, Smith has averaged 24 points.
Smith stepped up in a big way against Ohio State on Jan. 17, wowing the crowd at Crisler Center with a 36-point performance to lead her team to a 100-94 overtime win. She scored those 36 points against a team that had previously upset a ranked Rutgers squad by 17 points.
“(Smith) is really focused and really determined to have a tremendous senior season,” Barnes Arico said. “She brings the team with her. Her energy and her enthusiasm just brings the team along, and she was incredible once again and kind of willed us to victory.”
Michigan also restrained Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell, the nation’s leading scorer at 24.9 points per game, to just 13, thanks to Goree’s stellar defensive play.
Despite the Wolverines’ recent string of success, you won’t find a Michigan player atop any statistical leaderboards.
But they do have Goree, who averages a double-double. They have Thompson, who shoots over 40 percent from beyond the arc. They have Flaherty, who takes gutsy step-back treys without hesitation. They have Smith, who will drop a career-high 36 points and say “It really doesn’t matter if I (had had zero points), I’m just happy we got the victory.”
Because the Wolverines aren’t like most teams.
If Mitchell were to get injured today, Ohio State would have to completely alter its game plan.
But for Michigan, there isn’t a single setback that would completely spoil the team’s chances at a tournament run. Sure, if one of the leading scorers had a season-ending injury, there would be drawbacks, but nothing the Wolverines couldn’t combat. Someone else would be there to step up.
If Goree was injured, there would certainly be a drop-off in rebounds, but scrappy senior forward Nicole Elmblad would still be able to grab boards. Even the 5-foot-7 Smith has averaged 4.6 rebounds per game.
And when it comes to scoring points, Michigan definitely doesn’t have a problem. Most games, four Wolverines end up in the box score with more than 10 points. But the fear of not producing drives Michigan, too.
“When we see that other kids are really improving, we want to reward them and give them the opportunity for pushing themselves and doing the things that we ask,” Barnes Arico said Dec. 19. “If somebody else becomes complacent, we’re going to switch it up, just so they know that there’s always that chance; it keeps everybody hungry.”
With that attitude, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of worthy players on the bench who haven’t seen much playing time. Freshman forward Jillian Dunston could step in for Elmblad, or junior guard Madison Ristovski could effectively play in place of sophomore guard Danielle Williams.
As of late, Michigan has been benefiting from its deep roster.
The Wolverines have beaten rivals Ohio State and Michigan State at home, and of their five losses, three came against against ranked teams.
But the Wolverines have moved past those losses. They’ve realized they’re not like most teams.
Kelly Hall can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on twitter @KellyHall20