After junior forward Stephanie Gandy missed her pair of free throws with eight seconds left in Sunday’s matchup against Indiana, it would have been easy for the Michigan women’s basketball team to hang its head and figure that fate was against it. The 71-68 lead did not appear very safe against Hoosiers freshman Cyndi Valentin, who was already 4-6 from behind the arc in the game and finished with 21 points.
But disappointment was not the feeling in the final huddle, and some tough defense forced the final Valentin three wide, securing the Wolverines’ first conference victory.
“I wasn’t worried,” Michigan senior LeeAnn Bies said. “I think we stayed confident the whole game and that was a major factor in our win.”
Michigan’s first Big Ten win was a relief for a struggling team, but it did not come without its share of miscues. The Wolverines nearly surrendered an early second half lead of 16 points thanks to their propensity to cough up the ball. Their 28 turnovers was the second-highest total this season, allowing the Hoosiers to chip away and finally make a sloppy game competitive in the final minutes.
The difference in the game may have come from the Wolverines’ ability to finally work the ball down low to Bies and junior Jennifer Smith, a facet of their game that had been lacking in their three-game losing streak. Bies led the way with 19 points off the bench, while Smith contributed 12.
Michigan also got a helping hand from senior forward Raina Goodlow, who knocked down the first two buckets for the Wolverines with Bies on the bench and finished with nine points.
“Between (Bies), Jennifer Smith and Raina Goodlow, they did a nice job of looking for each other,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “We worked on the high-low (offense) and the double team all week.”
The bruising inside game drew 25 fouls from Indiana. Center Angela Hawkins fouled out at the 8:29 mark, followed by forward Brigett Branson with 1:53 left.
Michigan capitalized, draining 20-of-26 from the free throw line. Michigan’s 20 free throws were three more than Indiana could attempt, following a trend that has been apparent in many of Michigan’s wins this season.
“We had not been as aggressive in the last couple games of getting to the free throw line,” Guevara said. “I like the fact that we were able to make the officials make some calls because it was very physical down there.”
Not all those fouls came from Michigan’s size inside. Junior forward Stephanie Gandy got to the free throw line five times with her driving ability after Guevara noted her lack of such activity in last week’s loss to Purdue.
“(Gandy’s role) is to give us that energy and enthusiasim,” Guevara said. “She’s doing a better job defensively getting herself going and getting to the boards.”
With the normally emotional Gandy providing her spark, Michigan got a further boost with the return of freshman guard Niki Reams. Reams sat out the Purdue game and had seen limited action prior to it due to a wrist injury. While tallying just five points, she made her presence known through hustle plays and some defensive prowess, including three steals.
“Niki did give us a big spark off the bench,” Guevara said. “We’ve been missing her energy, and she keeps a lot of balls alive.”
Reams’ play mirrored much of the defense the Wolverines exhibited on the floor. A defense that has been flat for weeks came to life on Sunday, exemplified by Michigan’s last second stand.
Guevara switched between a 1-3-1 zone and a 2-3 zone throughout the game. While Michigan had its own troubles giving up the ball, the defense helped in creating 20 turnovers of its own.
“We were picking it up in the first half, getting our hands on a lot of balls,” Bies said. “That led to a lot of easy baskets on the other end.”