DETROIT — The Michigan women’s basketball team has been in existence for 44 seasons. Prior to Saturday, the Wolverines — despite several NCAA Tournament and Women’s National Invitation Tournament appearances — did not have a banner in Crisler Center to show for those 44 years. Nor had they ever been able to cut down the net at an arena before.
That all changed with Michigan’s 89-79, triple-overtime victory in the WNIT championship game against Georgia Tech. Starting next season, the Wolverines can look up in Crisler Center and see a banner of their very own, a tangible reward for over four decades of hard work.
“I think we had a refuse to lose mentality,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They refused to go away and it was just awesome to watch.”
Though the Michigan players received trophies and exchanged hugs and autographs immediately after the game, the most exciting event for the Wolverines was cutting down the net at Calihan Hall. The Wolverines took turns in Michigan’s first-ever net-cutting ceremony.
First up with the scissors was sophomore center Hallie Thome, whose heroics played a huge role in putting the Wolverines in the WNIT championship game. Coming into Saturday’s game, Thome had netted at least 20 points in three of Michigan’s five WNIT games.
Despite missing her first three shots, Thome once again proved indispensable for the Wolverines. She finished the game with 25 points, including eight in the third quarter, which allowed Michigan to take a 43-42 lead into the fourth frame.
“I’m really proud of everyone, definitely going into all the overtimes and not giving up, and still giving the same amount of effort each time,” Thome said. “Coach Arico had talked about it, we ran so much during preseason and just how we can outrun them and keep pushing. If it’s a battle on the run, we’ll be able to make it, so I think it definitely helped in our favor at the end of the game.”
Yet if junior guard Katelynn Flaherty wasn’t mobbed by fans and reporters, perhaps she would have gotten first dibs at trimming the net. Flaherty was named the WNIT’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 21.3 points per game in the tournament and netting 27 against the Yellow Jackets.
While Flaherty, like Thome, struggled early in the game, she came through when it mattered most for Michigan. As the Wolverines trailed Georgia Tech 67-61 with 1:06 remaining in regulation, Flaherty singlehandedly erased Michigan’s deficit with two 3-pointers to force overtime. She netted five more points in the overtime periods in order to ensure that she would have her turn with a pair of scissors.
“This is great,” Flaherty said. “It’s awesome to be able to win a championship and put your school on the map. This is the result of all our hard work all year whether we made the NCAA Tournament or not. It’s a great moment.”
Junior forward Jillian Dunston took her turn with the scissors between Thome and Flaherty. Although Dunston’s point totals in the WNIT were dwarfed by Thome’s and Flaherty’s, she led the Wolverines in rebounds through the first five games of the tournament with 41.
Dunston played no small part in Michigan’s championship victory either. During the second overtime period, she pulled down four boards and made both of her free throws, which propelled the Wolverines into the decisive third extra frame.
“I told myself my free-throw percentage this year was subpar,” Dunston said. “So I was like, ‘This is the last game. You have to go 2-for-2.’ So I was locked and loaded at the line. Luckily they went in.”
But the most emotional player after Michigan’s win may have been senior guard Siera Thompson, who is the Wolverines’ all-time leader in minutes played. She lived up to her no-rest reputation Saturday, playing all 55 minutes and tallying 15 points, eight assists and four rebounds in the process. It was fitting, then, that she was the one dribbling the ball in the waning seconds of the game before tossing it in the air in celebration.
“It was surreal,” Thompson said. “You dream about that when you’re a kid — winning a championship in college, it’s great. It’s a surreal feeling I’m so happy. I’m happy for myself and my teammates and my coaches.”
Though Michigan is understandably proud of its WNIT championship, the Wolverines attention will now turn to the NCAA Tournament. Michigan made earning a bid in the tournament a top goal at the beginning of the season and was stunned when it found itself outside the 64-team field.
Yet whatever happens from now on, everyone who walks into Crisler Center will see a new team represented in the rafters. And the Wolverines will always be able to say that they got to trim the net after a championship win.