Coming off a tough loss to Wisconsin last weekend, the Michigan women’s basketball team was in need of a bounce-back victory to kick off the new year.
Facing a reeling Penn State team (0-2 Big Ten, 3-10 overall) that has lost four starters from last season’s Big Ten champion squad, the Wolverines pounced at the opportunity to seize their first conference win. They dominated the Nittany Lions on both sides of the ball to the tune of an 89-53 victory.
Michigan (1-1, 9-4) displayed a relentless attack from buzzer to buzzer, overcoming a significant size disadvantage to outrebound Penn State 47-33 and pick apart the defense with timely shots.
Having no trouble creating open shots, the Wolverines turned to their most consistent offensive threats to blow the game open in the first half. Sophomore guard Siera Thompson was wide open on the majority of her 11 shots in the first half, allowing her to pick up two 3-pointers and eight points.
Though they looked imposing, the Nittany Lions’ defense allowed numerous open shots early, and the Wolverines didn’t hesitate to capitalize on the opportunities. Michigan jumped ahead early in the first half when Thompson and senior forward Nicole Elmblad combined to knock down three straight mid-range jumpers and grab a 6-2 lead.
Freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty, who has developed a knack for coming off the bench and quickly becoming the game’s leading scorer, accomplished that feat in her first two and a half minutes on the court by nailing two triples and a deep two-pointer. The young shooter’s immediate impact ran the score to 23-8, which proved to be well out of reach for Penn State.
“We shared the basketball exceptionally well,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It was so great to see us do (that) today — drive, find the open man, make an extra pass. It’s also helpful to knock down shots — we made the basket at the end of it, which we don’t do all the time.”
Added senior forward Cyesha Goree: “At the end of the day, it’s all about being checked in and focused when it comes to scouting and knowing their defense. When everybody’s on the same level, all five players, it really helps us on the defensive end and creates our offense for us.”
After Michigan’s initial run, the Lady Lions quickly fell apart. Unable to take care of the ball on offense or grab rebounds on defense, they played most of the game looking overwhelmed and out of sorts. Penn State finished the game shooting 40 percent from the floor, but it shot a dismal nine percent from the beyond the arc and 47 percent from the free throw line.
But instead of taking their feet off the gas pedal, the Wolverines continued to attack the reeling defense. Goree divided her 20 points nearly evenly between the first and second halves, and she also grabbed 12 rebounds en route to her fifth straight double-double. Senior guard Shannon Smith fearlessly attacked the rim throughout the game, picking up 17 points while only attempting two 3-pointers.
“(Penn State’s) size really didn’t hurt us,” Barnes Arico said. “We outrebounded them. We helped each other in the paint. They didn’t have great shooters, so we just kind of packed them in the paint and forced them to shoot outside shots.”
By the end of the game, Michigan had inserted most of its bench players, and the deficit still only grew wider. Freshman forward Jillian Dunston scored four points in nine seconds following a Thompson steal, and freshman center Terra Stapleton added six late points and an offensive rebound to finish off the Lady Lions.