For the second straight game, the Michigan women’s basketball team found itself battling more adversity than expected against a low-tier, non-conference opponent.
A number of players found themselves in foul trouble all game, the tired defense allowed a 26-13 run to close the first half, and the offense struggled with the turnover bug.
But yet again, the Wolverines bailed themselves out with timely shooting. Hitting 53.8 percent of its shots from behind the arc and riding strong performances from two starting guards, Michigan (2-0) eked out a 68-61 victory over Bucknell on Sunday.
Senior guard and leading scorer Shannon Smith exited the game with two fouls in the first four minutes, forcing other Wolverines to shoulder the offensive load.
Sophomore guard Siera Thompson keyed a 15-1 run in the first half, knocking down three 3-pointers and forcing the Bison into a 22-8 hole early on.
After a defensive lapse allowed Bucknell to take the lead early in the second half, it was freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty’s turn to step up. After the Wolverines fought back to claim a 50-47 lead, Flaherty hit a layup in heavy traffic, and the lead never slipped within one possession again. Flaherty finished with a team-high 15 points, shooting 6 of 9 from the floor.
“When (Smith) came out, we distributed the ball as best we could without her,” Flaherty said. “We did a good job holding up her end of the points today.”
Smith never quite looked herself after the early fouls, throwing up a few errant shots and managing just seven points. Her saving grace was a 3-pointer early in the second half that put Michigan on top for good.
“It changes each individual player’s mindset when they pick up an early foul,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think that kind of happened with Shannon tonight, she was kind of out of it a little bit. We have to be smart. We’ll try to keep our hands off and try to set the tone without fouling.”
Smith and Flaherty each finished with four fouls, and though Barnes Arico didn’t agree with some of them — she was in the referee’s ear after an early blocking foul on Smith — the violations were indicative of the physical defense Michigan was forced to play.
The Wolverines’ front court had its hands full as well. Senior forward Cyesha Goree spent most of the game matched up against Bison center Audrey Dotson, who put up 17 points and 11 rebounds. Another senior forward, Nicole Elmblad, found herself at a height disadvantage against 6-foot-1 forward Claire DeBoer, which forced her to play with a very aggressive, high-octane style. Elmblad fouled out with just under two minutes to go, forcing freshman forward Jillian Dunston into action.
“(Elmblad) did a great job defensively tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “She got some tough calls that I wasn’t sure were hers, but she just plays so hard. When she’s not on the court — her experience gives us a calming presence — it’s tough for us. I was a little concerned with her fouling out and Jillian having to be out there, but Jillian did a good job.”
Both Goree and Elmblad reached double figures in scoring and had 18 combined rebounds.
As the defense scrapped and clawed to keep the game close, Michigan’s balanced scoring attack put it over the hump. Five players finished in double digits, which proved to be enough to hold off a surging Bucknell offense.