Saturday afternoon’s matchup was primed to tell the story of two completely different teams — the Michigan’s women’s basketball team was averaging nearly 26 more points per game than Vermont and allowing six less points on the defensive end.
But after the first quarter against the Catamounts (3-7), the Wolverines (10-3) were struggling to generate any sort of offense, shooting an abysmal 4-for-22 from the field to hold just an 11-9 advantage.
Michigan’s usual suspects on offense — junior guard Katelynn Flaherty and senior guard Siera Thompson — were held in check.
It wasn’t until the final play of the first half when the Wolverines finally figured out how to shake off a stingy Vermont team. With the clock winding down, the ball was inbounded to sophomore center Hallie Thome at the top of the paint, who took a quick step to her left and tossed a layup off the glass over Vermont forward Lauren Handy to take a 34-23 lead into the locker room.
When Michigan’s outside shooting wasn’t getting the job done, the frontcourt of Thome and junior forward Jillian Dunston stepped up.
After six points and six boards in the first half, Thome tacked on another 12 points and five rebounds to notch the third double-double of her career.
“The guards put me in the perfect position to be able to score the ball,” Thome said. “We had a one-on-one in the paint so the guards did a great job of getting the ball in.”
While Dunston’s second-half efforts were overshadowed by Thome, she was nearly on her way to her own double-double after the first quarter — a big reason why the Wolverines still mounted a lead despite streaky shooting. During the opening frame, the 5-foot-11 forward had her way by the rim, tallying six points and six boards.
“(Dunston) provides a tremendous amount of energy night in and night out,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She has a rebound mentality. She’s always going after the ball. Today she was able to score early and get her confidence up early.”
Added Dunston: “Coach told me to be aggressive because she told me they weren’t going to play me. I was able to look at the basket and see a pathway whether it was a shot or a drive.”
Michigan was coming off its most impressive rebounding effort of the season — corralling 63 boards against Ohio on Tuesday night — entering the matchup with the Catamounts. Being aggressive by the basket was nothing new for the Wolverines. But their 18 offensive rebounds, which gave way to 14 second-chance points, proved to be vital.
With the upcoming addition of 6-foot-5 center Abby Cole — who just finished her impressive volleyball career for the Wolverines — Michigan’s frontcourt looks to be getting even bigger.
And as Saturday afternoon revealed, that size could prove vital if the Wolverines can’t convert jumpshots at their usual clip.