Just when Katelynn Flaherty started to heat up and come closer to a career milestone, she had to wait just a little longer.
For a seven-and-a-half-minute stretch that began in the first quarter, the sophomore guard went cold and couldn’t get a good look at the basket to make her mile shot.
Even though she knew she was close to breaking 1,000 career points — only one basket to be exact — Flaherty was just focused on ensuring a win for the Michigan women’s basketball team, which had just endured its worst loss of the season to No. 17 Michigan State just four days prior.
Between the two shots she let off during her scoreless span, one was an air ball and the other hit the front of the rim before falling into the hands of Illinois’ defense.
But 39 seconds later, the Fighting Illini left Flaherty alone in the corner, and she returned to form.
Flaherty grabbed the bounce pass, bent her right knee in, flung the ball up and watched the net swoosh as she became the 26th player in program history to reach 1,000 career points.
As the second sophomore ever and second-fastest player in program history to reach the landmark, Flaherty’s performance didn’t sway thereafter. In fact, she didn’t miss a shot for the next 20 minutes, as she scored a career-high 36-points to cap off the Wolverines’ 96-83 win Sunday.
“Katelynn Flaherty, holy cow,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s something special. I’m just getting so accustomed to her doing this night in and night out, I didn’t even realize that she scored 36 points until the end of the game.”
Added Flaherty: “It feels great (to reach 1,000). Everyone kinda made a big deal out of it. I’m not trying to think about it when I go out there, but I’m happy I achieved the goal.”
Though Illinois was the first team on the board, it never held a lead once Flaherty’s first basket fell just two minutes into the game. On 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter, she helped Michigan jump to a 10-point lead by the end of the frame.
The Fighting Illini were frazzled against a high-tempo, four-guard Wolverine starting lineup that included Flaherty, senior guard Madison Ristovski, junior guard Siera Thompson and freshman guard Boogie Brozoski. Illinois committed 18 turnovers total, one of which ended with Flaherty scoring on a fast-break layup. Soon after, Michigan created a 3-on-1 opportunity that nearly fell apart when Brozoski missed the mid-range jumper in transition.
Luckily for Michigan, Brozoski collected her rebound and kicked it out to the 3-point line, where Flaherty had no trouble finishing it off. It wasn’t until later that Brozoski had the assist on Flaherty’s 1,000th career point.
In the third quarter, the Wolverines’ hard-pressing defense continued to show huge strides with Illinois narrowing the scoring deficit to six points. Earlier in the season, Michigan may have let this one slip, but the Wolverines locked in instead.
With the win on the line, Flaherty made it a 12-point game in just 17 seconds with back-to-back 3-pointers, one of which resulted from a steal by Thompson at half-court.
“I thought we did a great job, Boogie Brozoski in particular, of finding (Flaherty) in transition and creating shots for her,” Barnes Arico said. “That really helped Katelynn get some open looks. A lot of times, she doesn’t get open, uncontested looks.”
If not for the motivating loss in East Lansing last week, Flaherty may not have had the same performance Sunday against Illinois. After watching film with assistant coach Megan Duffy and working on her technique in the gym, Flaherty has gotten a better understanding of why and how she’s missing shots.
“I think I was just very focused on staying with my shot instead of I fade away sometimes from it,” Flaherty said. “Today, my teammates put me in great positions as well and I had a lot of open shots, which helped.”
According to Barnes Arico, though, much of Flaherty’s success has hinged upon the sacrifices that Michigan’s leading scorer has made throughout her lifetime. Last week, the coaching staff had the team read an article about how athletes struggling with adversity can lead to success. The main takeaway was that “you have to struggle to be rewarded,” something applicable to Flaherty’s path — including a 499-point freshman season.
“People really work hard for things,” Barnes Arico said, “but people don’t understand the amount of time Katelynn Flaherty has shot the basketball and worked on her game to get to the level that she’s at.
“The sacrifices and the struggle that she has gone through to get to this point, it’s so nice to see her having the success that she is.”