Normally, if the Michigan women’s basketball team shot just 26 percent from behind the arc, the Wolverines would be in trouble.
Wednesday night was not the case of normal circumstances, as Michigan still topped the Wildcats, 65-61, and advanced to its first ever WNIT championship game. The Wolverines can thank their performance on the glass for their victory, as they out-rebounded Villanova, 40-33.
“(Rebounding) was something we spent a lot of time talking about,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We needed to give ourselves second chance points. We thought we could have an edge on the offensive glass, and we really tried to have our team crash. Given our team’s second-chance opportunities, we didn’t have to defend through the entire shot clock.”
The rebounding disparity between the two teams was most notable on offense, as Michigan nabbed 10 offensive boards to the Wildcats’ three. The Wolverines outscored Villanova in the paint, 34-14, and scored 10 second-chance points while not surrendering a single such point to the Wildcats.
In the last three minutes of the third quarter, Michigan nabbed three offensive boards — two by sophomore center Hallie Thome and one by sophomore guard Nicole Munger. Thome scored six second-chance points in that stretch, including a buzzer-beating layup that gave the Wolverines a 52-38 edge.
“I know that my teammates are going to put me in the right position to score,” Thome said. “If they’re not passing me the ball that means they’re packing the paint. We have a good enough team where other people can step up.”
It was defensive rebounding, though, that proved critical in the waning moments of the contest. With 32 seconds remaining, Villanova had cut what was a 52-36 Michigan lead into just a five-point deficit. The Wildcats had made seven of their last nine shots and looked poised to make it a one possession game.
But Villanova guard Adriana Hahn missed a 2-point jumper, and junior forward Jillian Dunston pulled down a rebound. Dunston then found senior guard Siera Thompson, who quickly drew a foul and made one free throw, stalling the Wildcats’ late momentum.
“We work on rebounding every day,” Dunston said. “I think we knew that they were a bigger team than us, so rebounding was a big thing for us.”
The Wolverines’ next opponent — Georgia Tech — knows a thing or two about winning with boards. Despite shooting just 18 percent from long range, the Yellow Jackets defeated Washington State, 69-61, in large part because they out-rebounded the Cougars, 50-35.
And indeed, winning the battle on the glass was key to Michigan’s 92-52 win over Georgia Tech on Dec. 1. The Wolverines out-rebounded the Yellow Jackets, 44-38 and nabbed 29 defensive boards to Georgia Tech’s 15. If Michigan can repeat that success against the Yellow Jackets, the Wolverines will have an excellent chance to win their first ever WNIT championship and raise a banner in Crisler Center for the first time.