Eleven minutes into Friday’s women’s basketball game
against Western Michigan, Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett looked up
at the scoreboard to find her team trailing 20-3. The players were
tired after having competed in three rounds of the preseason
Women’s National Invitational Tournament over the past seven
days, and Burnett questioned whether her team could rally to come
back against the tough Bronco offense.

Janna Hutz
Michigan senior Jennifer Smith paced the Wolverines, scoring 21 of her 32 points in the second half. (LAURA SCHLECTER/Daily)

An hour later, Burnett had her answer. The scoreboard revealed
Michigan as the victors, 66-53, sparked by a 35-9 run over the
first and second halves.

“Our players could have panicked and folded, or they could
have set their jaw and fought their way back in it,” Burnett
said. “And I’m very proud to say they fought themselves
back in it.”

To say Michigan got off to a bumpy start in this game would be
an understatement.

After just five minutes on the court, standout freshman Kelly
Helvey went out for the game with a hip-pointer. Michigan
didn’t even get on the scoreboard until the 13-minute mark
after a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Mie Burlin.

By the third media timeout, Michigan still lagged behind, 20-8.
The team needed to get back in the game or prepare for an
embarrassing loss.

“I think everybody was getting down and then we were like,
‘Okay, let’s go,’ ” junior forward Tabitha
Pool said. “We took a timeout for our coach to yell at us,
and (she said) we needed to go out there and play. That’s
what got our confidence back up.”

In the last seven minutes of the half, Michigan scored 18
points, coming within one point of the Broncos, 27-26, at the
break.

The energy that helped the Wolverines close the scoring gap in
the first half carried over into the second, as Michigan took the
lead immediately on a basket by center Jennifer Smith and held it
for the remainder of the game.

Smith dominated the second half, scoring 21 of her game-high 32
points in the second frame.

“We were making better decisions of getting the basketball
in to Jen,” Burnett said. “I see Jen’s face and
her desire to want the basketball, and (she has) what I call a
‘steely glare.’ ”

But Burnett gave the award for effort to sophomore forward Niki
Reams, who took Helvey’s position. Reams finished the game
with six assists and an even more impressive six offensive
rebounds.

Pool also stood out, scoring 18 points in the game — three
coming on a crucial basket from behind the arc midway through the
second half. Michigan led by just six points at the time, and the
triple sparked a 17-9 Michigan run.

Another difference in the game was Burnett’s use of her
bench players. Last Wednesday against Rutgers, Burnett kept her
five starters (Smith, Stephanie Gandy, Pool, Helvey, Sierra
Hauser-Price) in for the majority of the game and Michigan lost,
65-50. Against Western Michigan, Burnett continuously gave Reams,
Burlin and sophomore guard Rachel Carney opportunities to play. The
three combined to play 63 minutes and grab 17 boards.

Their efforts also helped pick up the slack for senior Gandy.
She had been averaging 18.3 points per game, but Friday, she scored
just four points on 1-of-6 shooting.

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