The No. 20 Michigan women’s basketball team needs just two more wins to record its best season in program history, but those hopes will face a stiff challenge in the form of a contest with Indiana at Assembly Hall on Thursday night.
The Wolverines (10-2 Big Ten, 21-5 overall) last took on the Hoosiers (7-5, 17-8) on Jan. 10, and managed to come away with a victory — barely. Despite Michigan’s 64-55 lead going into the fourth quarter, Indiana narrowed its deficit to two points in the final minute. But senior guard Siera Thompson iced the game, making four free throws in that final minute to claim the 78-74 win.
Four Hoosiers scored in double digits in the previous matchup — guard Tyra Buss and center Jenn Anderson both tallied 21 points. Michigan has the capability to match that output, though, as junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, sophomore center Hallie Thome and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick have all scored over 20 points in multiple games this season.
The Wolverines’ previous victory may foreshadow success in their upcoming matchup, but Michigan has taken care to not be overconfident.
“Indiana is a great team, and it came down to the wire here,” Flaherty said. “Going to their place, it’s going to be much different, and they will have a better game plan to try and stop us.”
The Wolverines faced another Big Ten team for the second time this season last Sunday and learned that initial wins don’t equate to easy rematches. On Jan. 1, Michigan easily defeated Wisconsin, 73-56, but when the two teams faced off again on Feb. 12, the Wolverines’ lead often remained in single-digit range.
“They played a lot of (man-on-man defense),” Flaherty said. “And I think that was a different look for us than last time, when they played a lot of zone.”
With more time to refine their game plan, the Badgers provided more of a challenge to Michigan the second time around. Wisconsin held Thome to just 13 points — a steep drop-off from the 37 she scored in the first matchup.
Against Indiana, Michigan is eager for the opportunity to correct its mistakes. The Wolverines have been averaging 71.5 percent from the free-throw line this season, but they have struggled in their past three games. Michigan managed to shoot just 54.5 percent against Wisconsin, 46.2 percent against Purdue and 57.7 percent against Iowa from the charity stripe.
“We just need to capitalize on all the little things,” said sophomore guard Nicole Munger. “… That’s definitely controllable, and it puts us up 10 more points, and it gives us a little bit more breathing room.”
The Wolverines are also putting an emphasis on rebounding after the Hoosiers won the battle on the glass, 35-29, the last time the teams faced off.
“If you are going to get outrebounded, you can’t get outrebounded and then give away possessions on the offensive end,” Barnes Arico said. “So we really talked about taking care of the basketball.”
Despite focusing on its problem areas, Michigan has the weapons to top Indiana on the road, from its high-volume scorers — Thome, Flaherty, and Gondrezick—to its strong defenders —Thompson and junior forward Jillian Dunston. Munger has also made an strong impact off the bench recently with a combination of press defense and late threes, including the game-winning basket against Iowa on Feb. 5.
Riding a six-game winning streak and falling to an unranked team only once this season, the Wolverines have the momentum to match their goal of finishing in top-three of the Big Ten, and that energy will likely carry them against Indiana.