After trading leads throughout Saturday’s game, the Michigan women’s basketball team pulled away in the second half to defeat Florida, 59-53. Led by senior guard Kate Thompson’s 21 points, the Wolverines shot 42.9 percent from the field to complete a five-game home stand.
“I thought we definitely had to grind it out,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We struggled in the first half on things we are typically good at, like making free throws and hitting open shots.
“Part of it was due to the Florida defense and their pressure, so we missed a bunch of things in the first half that we would normally make. I was happy to see us finish a game that we didn’t play exceptionally well in.”
The Gators scored 32 points on 41.4 percent shooting in the first half, but Michigan locked down on defense to hold their opponents to 21.6 percent from the field in the second half. Florida did, however, win the battle for rebounds, grabbing two more than the Wolverines’ 38 total.
Senior forward Rachel Sheffer, who appeared in her 100th career game, provided 13 points on 7-for-9 shooting. In her second consecutive start, senior forward Nya Jordan secured a season-high 11 rebounds, followed by senior guard Jenny Ryan’s nine boards. Ryan, who also dished out five assists against the Gators, scored all nine of her points in the second half.
Florida capitalized on Michigan’s first-half woes, scoring 12 points off the Wolverines’ eight turnovers. Michigan struggled early on to find their offensive rhythm and allowed the Gators to carry out an 11-2 run midway through the period. Thompson halted Florida’s run by hitting consecutive baskets from beyond the arc to kick-start a 9-2 scoring stretch for the Wolverines.
Despite shooting 1-for-5 from the free-throw line and giving up nine second-chance points, Michigan battled to close the deficit before halftime. The Gators, however, received 15 points off the bench and relied on defensive pressure to earn a 32-27 advantage going into the break.
“We weren’t really playing like ourselves the first half,” Sheffer said. “We just got together and said, ‘Come on.’ We need to focus on us and do what we do well.”
The Wolverines came out firing to open the second half, executing a 10-0 run generated by Ryan and Jordan nailing a pair of 3-pointers. Jordan’s 3-pointer, her first basket from beyond the arc this season, gave Michigan its first lead of the half.
With dominant interior defense, the Wolverines refused to give up their lead for the remainder of the game. When foul trouble forced Sheffer to the bench, senior forward Sam Arnold stepped in as a valuable replacement. Michigan then broke the lead open with a 12-5 run to earn a comfortable seven-point advantage.
“I thought Sam gave us great minutes,” Barnes Arico said. “She did a tremendous job of keeping things together when Rachel was out for a long stretch there, so I was really proud of the minutes that she gave tonight.”
When it appeared the Wolverines had the game under control, Florida continued to battle back. With less than three minutes remaining, the Gators buried a 3-pointer to trim the lead to four, but it was already too late. Michigan redeemed itself at the charity stripe to close the game, going 4-for-6 at the line to secure a six-point victory.
“I think that we’re getting better and better at (handling pressure) each and every time we play,” Barnes Arico said. “The more that you face something, obviously the more experience you have against it, the better you’re hopefully going to attack it.”
After struggling against No. 4 Duke’s full-court press, the Wolverines effectively handled Florida’s defensive pressure. Thompson was an offensive dynamo within the paint, but also demonstrated her shooting abilities from the perimeter. In her fifth-straight game scoring in double figures, Thompson has proven to be key for Michigan, as it has won four of five games when she scores at least 10 points this season.
“It all comes back to my teammates, they were setting really good screens,” Thompson said. “Florida is a very aggressive team within passing lanes, so they were recognizing when the switch would come and get me open.”