Nicole Munger was the fourth option.
The final play was meant for sophomore center Hallie Thome. If the ball wasn’t going to her, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty was supposed to receive, and after Flaherty, freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick.
But Munger, a sophomore guard, had the best matchup of the five Wolverines on the court. Flaherty knew that if she couldn’t make it, Munger was going to be the kickback. With 20 seconds to go, Munger scored the winning basket on a baseline layup.
“We got (Flaherty) coming off like we wanted,” Munger said. “I hesitated on the 3-pointer, but then I just drove, and I got a step, and it went in.
“That was just one play. Our team grinded out for a full 40 minutes. We were a little rickety in the first half, but we were able to come back and fight. What we did in that second half is just a testament to our team and our hard work.”
Hosting Iowa (5-5 Big Ten, 14-9 overall) for the first time this season, the Michigan women’s basketball team prevailed in its closest final minute the team has seen this season. The Wolverines have gone undefeated on their home court and have won 19 of 24 games this season — the best mark in program history — and won eight of their first 10 Big Ten games. Contributing to the great game was Thompson, as she became the second player in program history to reach 500 career assists.
But for the first time this season, Michigan ended its first quarter at Crisler Center trailing. The Wolverines were down 20-15 and trailed the Hawkeyes until the final minutes of the game when they pulled away to notch a 72-70 victory.
“I think Iowa’s a very good team,” Thome said. “They’re scrappy.They would do anything to get the ball. So at the end of the day we just had to make sure we were on point.”
In the first period, though, things looked bleak. Thome had almost half of the Wolverines’ points, but they were unable to defend against the Hawkeyes.
The second period didn’t bode well for Michigan, either. In the first minute the Wolverines let up seven points, led mostly by Iowa guard Tania Davis.
In response, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico called the team’s first timeout with 8:50 left in the second, when the game stood at 27-15.
With less than five minutes to go in the first half, Munger brought the Wolverines out of their 10-point deficit.
“I thought (Munger) was outstanding,” Barnes Arico said. “She played the front of the press, her length is great. She disrupts everything. Her ability to get the ball and shoot the ball is tremendous. She’s just active and was all over the place, she was a spark for us tonight.”
Added Gondrezick: “(Munger) was very important. She’s as important as one of our starting five. The way that she was able to come in and create a spark off the bench, it shows our versatility.”
But the Hawkeyes responded with a pair of baskets and the Wolverines found themselves facing a 10-point gap once again, eventually ending the half down, 45-33.
“(In the Iowa game last year at home) we were down 17 at half and we came back and won,” Munger said. “So this year we were like, ‘Well, we did it last year and we’re only down 12 this year so we know we can do it, we just have to stick to our morals.’ There’s no 12-point shot so we’re going to need to defend.”
The first minute of the second half was almost a complete turnaround for the Wolverines, though. Flaherty, Gondrezick and Dunston each managed a layup apiece to make the game 45-39.
The Wolverines entered the final quarter trailing 61-52, but Munger sunk a three in the first minute. With two seconds left on the shot clock, Thome then converted a layup before Michigan forced a stop on the next possession. Gondrezick got the ball and brought it down court for a layup to cut Iowa’s lead to two.
Another missed layup by Iowa’s Gustafson had the crowd on its feet. And an added free throw by Gondrezick made the game 60-61 and created a deafening Crisler Center crowd. Iowa quickly called a time out, sensing the game slipping from its grasp.
With 3:54 left on the clock, the Wolverines looked at a 61-66 deficit after Gustafson hit a layup. But Gondrezick swooped in and brought Michigan back in the game with a 3-pointer, which was quickly followed by an Iowa turnover. The turnover ended in an injury substitution, though, when Davis finished sprawled on the paint and had to leave the court.
Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle fouled out of the game, leaving Gondrezick with a chance to make a quick free throw to once again put the Wolverines within three points. Gondrezick then successfully made a pair of free throws, pushing the Wolverines within one point for just the second time of the game.
Flaherty then hit a layup with 45 seconds to go after Gondrezick forced a turnover, but Iowa responded with a quick basket, making the score 70-69. There were 35 seconds to go.
The rest was a nail-biting back-and-forth struggle between the Wolverines and Hawkeyes, but after Munger’s layup, Iowa couldn’t capitalize within the time-pressure and Michigan maintained its undefeated streak at home.
“This was a special game,” Munger said. “We couldn’t really get our mojo going in the first half just with our offense, but I think that makes this game almost sweeter. We were able to fight through that.”