Before the season began, the Michigan women’s basketball team set two goals. The Wolverines wanted to finish in the top four of the Big Ten and secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan (3-1 Big Ten, 14-4 overall) took a big step toward those ambitions Tuesday night. The Wolverines rode a double-double performance from sophomore center Hallie Thome to a 78-74 victory over Indiana (2-2, 12-5). With Tuesday’s victory, Michigan avenged a 77-69 overtime loss to the Hoosiers on Jan. 3, 2016 in which the Wolverines blew a nine-point lead with four minutes to go in regulation.
“That’s definitely something we talked about,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We’ve definitely have shown growth. We’ve shown our ability to make free throws down the stretch and to take care of the basketball down the stretch and even just getting some stops.”
For a moment, though, it looked like the Wolverines might be stunned again.
Michigan led 71-62 with five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, a seemingly comfortable advantage. But Indiana center Jenn Anderson scored six points in three minutes, helping the Hoosiers narrow the gap to 74-72.
Ensuring that the Wolverines would not be stunned again, senior guard Siera Thompson drew two fouls in the waning seconds and made all four of her free throws to ice the game.
“I am very confident in my free-throw shooting,” Thompson said. “I just went up there and shot like I always shoot in practice.”
The game was a back-and-forth contest throughout.
The first quarter appeared to be going the way of the Hoosiers, who led 16-13 with under a minute to go despite making just 35.3 percent of their shots. But sophomore guard Nicole Munger broke through with three quick points to tie the game. She then made a baseline layup to put the Wolverines ahead, 18-16, as time expired in the frame.
“Munger is a scorer,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s a great kid. She’s one of the hardest workers we have in our program.”
Michigan began to open up a cushion in the second quarter thanks to a bruising performance by Thome. In just the first four minutes of the frame, she tallied seven points and drew two fouls as well. Junior forward Jillian Dunston contributed two layups off turnovers, and the Wolverines took a 37-25 edge with 3:09 to go in the frame.
“That’s definitely what separated us in the beginning,” Thome said. “We were able to get fouls on their key players, which took them out of what they wanted to do so they couldn’t really defend without worrying about picking up another foul.”
But the Hoosiers had no plans to go away quietly. Indiana proceeded to go on a 12-0 run in just two minutes before freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick nailed a three-pointer to stop the bleeding.
Gondrezick scored eight more points in the third frame, which allowed Michigan to take a sizable 64-55 lead into the fourth quarter. She finished the game with 17 points and a career-high eight assists.
“I was just running within the offense,” Gondrezick said. “Whatever shot was open, I took. Luckily, they just went in.”
With the victory on Tuesday night, the Wolverines move to third place in Big Ten play, behind No. 3 Maryland and No. 11 Ohio State, both of whom are undefeated in conference games. Michigan will face the Terrapins on Jan. 19, hoping to pull off an upset.
Before then, though, Michigan will have to contend with Minnesota on Jan. 15 at Crisler Center. Though the Golden Gophers are 0-3 in Big Ten play, they have had tough match-ups against Maryland, Ohio State and Indiana, all of whom are in the top 60 in the Ratings Percentage Index.