The Michigan women’s basketball team almost got a nasty taste of déjà vu Sunday.
On Jan. 3, the Wolverines blew a six-point lead in the final three minutes against Purdue to start their Big Ten schedule with a loss. One month later, Michigan almost found itself in the exact same position.
After the Wolverines’ offense ran out of steam for nearly the entire fourth quarter Sunday, the Boilermakers brought the game to within four points in the final three minutes. Luckily for Michigan, its offense kicked back into gear to stay ahead down the stretch for a 68-61 win.
“Really happy for our team to come out with that win after the way we lost at our place,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It was two similar-type games. … I thought they really made a run there in the fourth quarter. (Junior guard) Siera Thompson was able to make some big plays, and (senior guard) Madison Ristovski scored off an inbound, which really helped us, because we were in a period there where we couldn’t really score the basketball.”
With the Wolverines’ postseason momentum on the line game by game, they need every win they can get in the final stretch before the Big Ten Tournament in March. Now on a three-game winning streak, Michigan (7-7 Big Ten, 15-10 overall) is starting to see its season bounce back after a few heart-wrenching losses early on.
Sunday’s game almost became another one.
Both teams committed 17 turnovers, which led to inefficient offenses on both ends and several prolonged scoring droughts, one of which was nearly fatal for the Wolverines.
Thirty seconds into the final quarter, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty hit a jumper to put Michigan up by 13. Then everything went south, as the Wolverines didn’t score a field goal for the following six and a half minutes.
During that time, freshman center Hallie Thome — who was used sparingly throughout the night due to foul trouble — made a pair of free throws, but fouled out at the five-minute mark.
Without Michigan’s big, things looked dismal. But then the Wolverines made their next three shots: a layup by Ristovski and back-to-back shots by Thompson, the latter being a 3-pointer.
“For us to come in here and be able to pull out a victory against a tough, physical, defensive team like Purdue when Hallie fouled out of the game and really wasn’t able to play a lot of minutes,” Barnes Arico said, “(it’s) a solid win for us for sure.”
Despite nearly squandering the game down the stretch, Michigan opened the game on an even uglier note. Late into the half, the Wolverines’ offense stalled at 18 points before going on a 17-7 run to go up by six at halftime.
Michigan’s balanced attack proved to be the difference maker later on, as four players reached double-digit scoring — Flaherty (17), Thome (14), Thompson (13) and Ristovski (11).
“We need additional scorers to Katelynn and Hallie,” Barnes Arico said. “Usually when Katelynn has her most high-scoring nights, we lose the game. We need a balanced attack.”
While Thompson found success driving into the paint, sophomore forward Jillian Dunston and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell controlled the glass, even though Purdue outrebounded Michigan, 38-37. With Thome out of the picture, the Wolverines fell back on its next-best duo.
With the much needed win in West Lafayette, Michigan moves to .500 in conference play for the first time since early January. More importantly, the Wolverines move farther away from becoming one of the bottom four teams in the conference — all of which will have to win a play-in game to compete in the Big Ten Tournament.
But for Michigan to be sure of missing a play-in game, it will need to avoid more heart-racing games like Sunday’s.