With five minutes remaining in the Michigan women’s basketball team’s game against Wisconsin on Saturday, junior guard Courtney Boylan had just two points.
But during the next five minutes, Boylan scored arguably the most important eight points of her career, allowing the Wolverines to squeak by the Badgers, 68-66, in Madison. The win left Michigan in third place in the Big Ten standings with just two conference games left to play.
“I guess it was just kind of my turn at the end,” Boylan said after the game. “I saw some openings driving the lane, and I was able to make a few shots at the end, so it was great.”
It was her bucket with eight seconds left that proved to be the winner. With the game tied, Boylan came off a screen and drove left, cruised by the Wisconsin defenders and finished the drive with a kiss off the glass to give the Wolverines the victory.
But early on, it was the Rachel Sheffer show. The sophomore forward scored Michigan’s first seven points of the game and 15 of the team’s first 20.
The Badgers dared her to shoot the deep ball — and she did. After Sheffer hit a 3-pointer to start the game, Wisconsin (9-5 Big Ten, 14-12 overall) tightened up its defense on the perimeter and Sheffer moved her game inside.
“All week, we practiced on them doubling down, because Wisconsin always doubles the post,” Sheffer said. “But they weren’t really doing it a lot in the first half, or as much as we thought (they would). So it was more one-one-one posting.”
Sheffer took advantage of the one-on-one situations, converting a myriad of post moves and hitting layups with both hands, making it look easy in the process.
“In the first half, she carried us,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said.
She ended the first frame with 18 points, and the Wolverines (9-5, 16-10) went into the break with a 34-25 lead.
The Badgers switched up their defense in the second half, often doubling Sheffer in the paint, holding her to just four points in the frame.
But having multiple players with the ability to make big shots is something the Wolverines pride themselves on — and it showed on Saturday.
After Wisconsin cut the lead to three on a jumper from senior forward Lin Zastrow with 12 minutes to play, sophomore guard Jenny Ryan hit a 3-pointer and sophomore Kate Thompson hit two of her four total shots from behind the arc to increase the lead back to 10.
“That’s what we do,” Borseth said. “Every player has got the ability to make shots, and we’re not a one-player team. We’re a group, and everybody has got to be able to contribute.”
But the Badgers wouldn’t go away. Junior guard Jade Davis caught fire, hitting three 3-pointers in the final six minutes of the game to help Wisconsin climb back. And with just four minutes left, Davis’s third 3-pointer of the game gave the Badgers their first lead since early in the first half.
Wisconsin upped its lead to four with just over two minutes to play, but Michigan quickly tied it back up with buckets by Sheffer and Boylan.
After a defensive rebound by Sheffer with the score tied and 22 seconds to play, Boylan took the ball down with a chance to be the hero.
“I actually thought we were going to call a timeout to set something up for the last play,” Boylan said. “I wasn’t really sure, but the ball just kind of ended up in my hands.”
Borseth was confident in his decision not to call a timeout, saying he didn’t want to give the Badger defense a chance to set itself up.
“It’s one of those things where people either say, ‘Jeez, nice play,’ if it works, or if it doesn’t work then it’s, ‘Jeez, you’re an idiot,’ ” Borseth said. “It was a ball screen, as simple as that. We knew they’d be in a man (defense), we knew exactly what we could run without any second-guessing, and it worked.”
Following a Badger timeout, Wisconsin came down the court looking to win it with a shot from behind the arc. With time expiring, Davis got the ball on the wing and had an open look at a 3-pointer.
“I thought it was going in,” Borseth said. “We went into a zone, forced them to pitch it out. The ball was in the air and all I figured was, ‘Oh boy, all I could see was that ball going in the basket and the place going nuts.’ ”
Instead, the ball clanged off the back of the rim and into the hands of senior Veronica Hicks, and Michigan secured one of its most important victories of the year.
“It’s a huge win,” Boylan said. “Going into it, everybody on our team knew how big it was, especially with them being in third (place) and us only a game behind.
“We knew we had to come in here and win this.”