On New Year’s Day, the No. 21 Michigan women’s basketball team traveled to the Kohl Center and defeated Wisconsin, 73-56. Sophomore center Hallie Thome scored 37 points and nabbed 14 rebounds that day.
Thome did not have quite as many points or rebounds Sunday — notching 13 and 6, respectively. This time it was junior guard Katelynn Flaherty who led the Wolverines to victory over the Badgers by a score of 75-66. Flaherty finished the game with 35 points, just three shy of her record set on Jan. 7 against Ohio State.
Michigan (10-2 Big Ten, 21-5 overall) earned the win despite the struggles of guard Kysre Gondrezick. The freshman sensation scored just three points in the entire contest.
“We had to grind out a tough one today,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Our ability to do that is positive. Anytime you can get a victory, we’re definitely going to take it.”
Wisconsin (1-11, 6-19) proved to be a pesky opponent for the Wolverines, as the Badgers trailed just 55-51 with nine minutes to go in the final quarter. But senior guard Siera Thompson pulled down a defensive rebound, found Thome for a layup, and Wisconsin never recovered.
It wasn’t only the fourth quarter where the Badgers kept the game close, though.
The Wolverines had difficulties on the glass in the first quarter, as Wisconsin outrebounded Michigan, 13-7. Despite those rebounding woes, the Wolverines held a 13-12 advantage at the end of the frame thanks to seven points from Flaherty. The Badgers abetted Michigan’s cause by turning the ball over six times in the opening frame.
“We definitely need to rebound better,” Flaherty said. “But eventually we found people in good positions. I just felt good today. A lot of my shots were open, which wasn’t the case the past couple of games.”
More issues cropped up for the Wolverines in the second stanza. Michigan made just six of its 12 free throws and mustered merely two offensive rebounds. Gondrezick added to the woes, by not registering a single point, rebound or assist in the first half. It prompted Barnes Arico to give her five minutes off, and little went right for the Wolverines early in the game.
But Flaherty once again came to the rescue. She netted 14 points in the second, including the first five points of the quarter, which allowed Michigan to take a 35-29 lead into halftime.
“I’m grateful every day that I have Katelynn Flaherty on our team,” Barnes Arico said. “There are some days when Katelynn’s shot might not be falling, or some days where teams are face guarding her, and she doesn’t get very many open looks. But the attention that she draws each and every single day, whether she has a day where she scores 35, whether she has a day where she scores 11, is a difference maker for our team.”
The third frame threatened to go the way of the first two, as Wisconsin made two quick baskets to cut its deficit to two points. Michigan was in danger of falling to an opponent that walked into Sunday’s contest with only one Big Ten win.
Then junior forward Jillian Dunston stepped up. After getting in foul trouble in the first half, her first play of the second half involved forcing a steal, beating Badger forward Marsha Howard to the ball and racing down the court for a layup. The Wolverines maintained a lead of at least four points for the remainder of the game.
“When we don’t have (Dunston) in the game, we’re a different team,” Barnes Arico said. “She provides so much energy and so much hustle. She has such an incredible motor.”
From there, sophomore guard Nicole Munger tallied six points in the third quarter, which gave Michigan a 52-46 lead heading into the final quarter. Munger finished Sunday with her first career double-double, tallying 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The difficulty of the Wolverines’ schedule will increase substantially over the next week, as Michigan prepares to travel to Indiana (7-5, 17-8) on Thursday before taking on Michigan State (6-6, 16-9) at Crisler Center on Sunday. The Wolverines know they will have to clean up Sunday’s issues in order to emerge victorious in those contests.
“Today, I don’t think we did a great job of taking away the other team’s strength,” Barnes Arico said. “Knowing your personnel and knowing, ‘Okay, if that kid is going to go right shoulder, right shoulder,’ or if a kid is going to drive left. We need to be able to be locked into those things.”