Michigan women’s basketball coach Cheryl Burnett has often said that she will not use her team’s inexperience as an excuse for its shortcomings on the court. But after the Wolverines’ stunning 57-51 road win over UC-Santa Barbara on Friday, Burnett may not have to field as many questions about her team’s lack of experience.

With less than a minute left in the second half and the game on the line, Michigan controlled the ball. The Wolverines (2-1) could either bleed the clock down to less than 30 seconds or put the game out of reach. Senior forward Tabitha Pool did both. She hit a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring to put Michigan up 57-51 with 23 seconds left in the game, essentially sealing the game.

“Tabitha had an amazing performance,” Burnett said. “We run our whole offense through her, and she’s done such a great job of taking shots and of giving up shots to get other players the basketball. She just did it all this game.”

Pool’s 19 points and 10 rebounds were extremely important, but just as significant was her tenacious defense on All-America candidate Kristin Mann. Mann shot just 5-of-15 from the field and was held to 14 points. On the defensive end, Mann was trying to keep up with the quicker Pool all night long.

Going into the game, the Michigan coaching staff knew that its team could not bang down low with the Gauchos’ bigger post players — 6-foot-6 Kate Bauman and 6-foot-4 Jenna Green.

But the staff also knew that UC-Santa Barbara’s bigger post players could not guard Pool or freshman Ta’Shia Walker on the perimeter. That proved to be true as Walker finished with 22 points, including two 3-pointers.

“We knew when she was coming into our program that she is so multi-dimensional and that she is a go-to player,” Burnett said. “We wanted to make sure that we got both Tabitha and Ta’Shia outside the post and take advantage of what they can do on the outside.”

Michigan took the early lead off 3-pointers from Pool and freshman point guard Becky Flippin. The Wolverines’ hot shooting and swarming defense helped them to a 20-11 lead at the 8:03 mark.

But Michigan’s outside shooting stalled, and the Gauchos (1-1) responded with a 13-0 run to take the lead 24-20 at the 2:12 mark in the first half.

Michigan could have gotten frustrated and intimidated by the Thunderdome crowd and lost its lead, but the Wolverines showed maturity and went on a 6-0 run to take the lead at half, 26-24. Walker scored the last three buckets to spur the effort.

“This team has a tremendous amount of character and competitive spirit,” Burnett said. “This is a group that becomes more determined, and they did a great job of rallying around each other.”

Michigan took a 29-24 lead early in the second half. But that lead proved to be a short one as the Gauchos used their size advantage on the offensive glass to score eight straight. UC-Santa Barbara seemed to be taking control of the game after gaining the lead 30-29 with 15:32 left in the game.

“We thought we could wear down the opponent at the end of the game,” Burnett said. “It’s what we talked about going into the game and during the game, that physically we are in great condition.”

Pool and Walker paced Michigan, as they answered every time UC-Santa Barbara tried to pull away. Pool hit a 3-pointer, and Walker scored down low to even the score at 45-45.

The teams traded hoops before freshman Krista Clement came up with a big steal and found Walker in the post for a layup and a foul to put Michigan up 54-51. That would be as close as the Gauchos would get, as Pool preserved the victory for the Wolverines.

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