IOWA CITY – With Michigan up by one point against Iowa and two minutes left in the game, both teams were desperate for possession.
But as the 2,300-person crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena yelled and screamed, the Wolverines calmly held onto their lead.
Despite Iowa’s home-court advantage and lopsided 41-15 all-time series edge, Michigan was able to eke out a 54-51 victory to open Big Ten play.
“Most of the games that are being won are by big margins,” junior guard Veronica Hicks said. “But I think this win was something great for us because it shows that even if you try to slow us down, we can fight that adversity and come out on top, and I think that’s something that’s really huge.”
The fans came alive in the last minutes of the game after the Hawkeyes surged in the second half to narrow Michigan’s lead to five with just five minutes left on the clock.
“I don’t know that we were overly aggressive,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “I don’t know that many of our players wanted the ball. At the end I think (Hicks) knew she needed to have it. I think (senior center Krista Phillips) wanted it. They are veterans. But I don’t think the other kids really wanted to have the basketball and you have to want that, especially at crunch time.”
The Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) were able to use momentum from early in the game to stave off the aggressive Hawkeyes when it mattered most. Michigan’s energy was evident prior to the game as the team jumped and danced in its pregame huddle. And that energy was crucial in Michigan’s fight until the buzzer.
Early in the game, when Phillips won the tipoff and later got the ball back for a layup, the Wolverines quickly took advantage. That momentum translated into a 12-2 run in the first five minutes for Michigan, who never relinquished the lead.
But the Hawkeyes pulled within five with three minutes left in the first half before Michigan went on a 9-0 run, led by Phillips’ shots from the post and Hicks’ consecutive layups.
Michigan held its lead comfortably for much of the second half, but was unable to keep the Hawkeyes from making the game a nailbiter in the last two minutes. Iowa (0-1 Big Ten, 5-4 overall) threatened with a 7-1 run to make the score 52-51 Michigan. Neither team scored again until freshman guard Dayeesha Hollins scored a layup at the buzzer.
In Michigan’s most physical game this season, both sides recorded numerous fouls. Iowa was able to capitalize on those fouls late in the game to put pressure on the Wolverines.
“(Iowa’s defense) is definitely an in-your-face kind of thing, and you just run right into it,” freshman guard Jenny Ryan said. “So it’s everything that people say, and then, I guess you get ready for it mentally.”
Once Iowa narrowed Michigan’s lead to one with less than two minutes remaining, fouls became even more important. Luckily for the Wolverines, the Hawkeyes weren’t able to capitalize on any of those opportunities.
After Iowa’s last chance at the line, it took a team effort by the Wolverines to score that last basket. Hollins’s layup increased the lead to three and sealed the victory that could have so easily slipped away in the waning minutes.
The Wolverines, who have already played five straight games on the road, will continue their road trip on Thursday against Boston College.