Hallie Thome looked around and realized there were no other options. The shot clock was winding down, there was nobody near her and — with Northwestern having pulled within single digits to start the final quarter — the pressure was on. For the first time all year, the junior center rose and fired from beyond the arc. She nailed it.
“Our bench was up standing, keeping us aware of the time (on the shot clock), and so they’re screaming, like, ‘Six, five’ and I see everyone just running around,” Thome said. “I said, ‘You know what, my feet are set, just shoot it, Hallie.’
“ … My grandpa will be so proud. He calls me after every game and he will be like, ‘You need to watch the film. You have an open 3.’ I’m like, ‘Grandpa, I’m not shooting a 3.’ ”
The absurdity of Thome taking her first triple of the season in such a situation did all that was necessary to relax the Michigan women’s basketball team, and the game quickly got out of hand. Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty hit a 3-pointer, then another one. An 11-point lead became 15. A potential loss — one which would have been Michigan’s third in a row — became a 21-point, 84-63 win, barely a blip on the radar in the throes of the season. There’s a comfort in normalcy, and the 21st-ranked Wolverines (9-4 Big Ten, 20-6 overall) found its embrace on Thursday.
“The world (was) coming to an end last week,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “You know, you lose two games, holy cow we hit a little bump in the road. But it’s nice to see that our kids responded tonight, and we had some confidence.”
Thome carried the load early, fighting off double-teams and knocking in an array of hook shots and turnaround jumpers from the post. Though the Wildcats kept it close during the first quarter, Thome gave Michigan the lead just as the period ended, swallowing Lindsay Pulliam’s shot whole, leading Flaherty to an and-one transition layup.
Despite only five first quarter points, Flaherty made up for it by dropping 31 in the next three, finishing with a season-high 36. If the early goings were a showcase for Thome, the rest was a display of Flaherty’s dominance — the basketball version of a Maori war dance.
She hit one 3-pointer off a dribble-handoff from Thome, then another off an offensive rebound from senior forward Jillian Dunston, then another, pulling up after Dunston reversed the direction of a screen to open up space. For good measure, she added two more before the first half was over.
During the week, Barnes Arico emphasized getting Flaherty open off screens in practice, especially to Dunston.
“If your girl’s gonna run to the paint, that means every single time, you can get Katelynn an open shot, at least for a hair of a second,” she told her. “And if you do, she’s going to be able to knock that down.”
Northwestern didn’t have much of an answer for Flaherty last Monday in Evanston, when she scored 27 on 10-of-21 shooting. They never found one Thursday. The Wildcats’ adjustment was a collective shoulder shrug, as she caroused to nine three-pointers. Not to be outdone, Thome finished with 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field, along with five rebounds and a season-high four blocks.
“People were doubling in the post on Hallie and face-guarding Katelynn the entire game,” Barnes Arico said. “But they can’t do that without their teammates getting good screens and recognizing them when they’re open. And I thought that’s where we really took steps in the right direction tonight, is being able to find them and get them touches when they were open.”
The Wolverines were on the ropes heading into this game, having lost two straight with two consecutive road games and a home contest against No. 10 Maryland coming up. This was the game they had to win, no ifs, ands or buts about it, and win they did.
“You go into the motions when you start winning a lot of games,” Flaherty said. “And I think these past two days especially, we really came in, worked hard and I think our confidence is back.”