Madison Ristovski had the ball in her hands on the inbounds pass with 4.6 seconds left and her Wolverines up by one. Temple players scurried right and left in her line of vision, doing their best to deny Michigan the ball. The Owls succeeded in their effort to get the ball back, as Ristovski threw the ball out of bounds.
Though the Wolverines lost possession, they stifled Temple from scoring on the next possession when the last-second attempt rimmed out. That was the case for most of the game — Michigan was closer to losing than in any other matchup of the WNIT, but it made plays when it needed to.
“I think throughout the whole year, I’ve always made the right pass, and I messed up,” Ristovski said. “I threw it out of bounds, Katelynn got pushed, whatever happened. With five seconds left, with that timeout, (Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico) really said, ‘You saw that opportunity to win the game, all you have to do is get a stop.’ ”
Even before the final result was set in stone, it was evident from the first minute of play that Temple was different from other opponents the Michigan women’s basketball team had encountered in the WNIT. The Owls had to guard Michigan’s 6-foot-5 freshman center Hallie Thome, but initially, instead of guarding Thome with one of her tallest players, Temple coach Tonya Cardoza elected to use 5-foot-9 guard Tanaya Atkinson.
Despite the height disadvantage, the plan worked in the first quarter, as the Owls were able to intercept passes while the Wolverines focused on getting the ball into the post. Thome managed just two points in the first quarter and Michigan coughed up six turnovers, all occurring within the first five minutes of the contest.
With the unorthodox approach to defense, Temple held the Wolverines to just nine points in the first quarter to take a 23-9 lead. The Owls didn’t score their next basket until five minutes were left in the second quarter, while Michigan started the quarter on a 9-0 run. Temple recovered to take a 10-point lead into halftime, capped off by a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of the scrappy first half that included five jump-ball calls.
“We knew, Coach Arico told us, that they were a really good first-quarter team,” said junior guard Danielle Williams. “We needed to play harder, honestly. A lot of it was just effort at the beginning, and we had to leave it all out there. It could’ve been our last game and it almost was. (We needed to) just leave it all out there, play really hard, play smart and see what they’re giving you to play as a team.”
In the first half, the Wolverines went 13-for-37 from the floor to shoot 35 percent. Though the Owls held Thome and sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty to a combined 10 points in the first 20 minutes of action, the Wolverines stayed close with the help of Ristovski, who led Michigan with 13 points. With her leading the way, the Wolverines committed only one turnover in the second quarter to give them momentum heading into the third.
The Owls stalled Flaherty in the first half, but had no success containing her in the third quarter. Flaherty found an offensive spark, knocking down two 3-pointers before the final minute of the quarter.
Then the fireworks really started. Senior guard Siera Thompson followed Flaherty with a 3-pointer of her own, only to be followed by another basket by Flaherty at the buzzer to tie the game at 60 with the crowd on its feet to start the fourth quarter.
“We executed well down the stretch and kind of relaxed more and took our time,” Flaherty said. “In the beginning, we were kind of throwing up some shots and not being patient.”
With Flaherty driving to the basket within the last minute of the game, the Owls blocked her attempt, but the Wolverines kept possession after the rejection went out of bounds with 33 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, Temple halted Michigan three times with hard-nosed defense, but Thome hauled down a rebound and put in a layup to give the Wolverines a lead.
Then the Wolverines closed out the game for good. Michigan was put to the test Monday night, but intangibles made the difference in the toughest matchup it has faced in the WNIT. The Wolverines fought through poor shooting and an aggressive defensive effort by their opponent, but wouldn’t be denied when a play needed to be made.
“We needed a total team effort to be successful,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, “and everyone that came in really contributed to that and bought into that mentality.”