At first, it seemed like the Michigan women’s basketball team was going to add another loss to its Big Ten record. At first, it seemed like the Wolverines were going to let their inconsistency get the best of them once again. At first, it seemed like Michigan had no chance of a comeback.
Instead, the Wolverines did the unthinkable.
For four minutes in the third and fourth quarters, Iowa (3-1 Big Ten, 12-4 overall) went cold and allowed Michigan (1-2, 9-5) to slowly claw its way out of the hole it had dug during the first half.
Initially, the game seemed like it was on the path to be a blowout. But the Wolverines dominated the fourth quarter and came away with an 82-75 win — its first win in the conference.
The comeback sent a previously quiet Crisler Center into an absolute frenzy. By the sound of it alone, Michigan might have just won the Big Ten Tournament.
“It’s really been a difficult couple of weeks,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We’ve lost a lot of tough games, and our confidence was really shaken at some times. … (Iowa) went on that run and got it to 17, and we stopped looking at the scoreboard and really just buckled down, tried to get one stop at a time and then score down the other way.
“A lot of people stepped up and made really tremendous plays for us, especially down the stretch. … Just proud of our total effort and bounceback.”
That bounceback wouldn’t have been possible without sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell, who each made huge strides in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
Flaherty, who ended the game with 24 points, looked confident with every shot and continued to drain them from all over the floor.
When the game was within one possession, Flaherty drove inside the paint and rolled the ball off the backboard and into the net, falling into the cameraman behind the net before quickly reorganizing herself to get back on defense. That basket kept Michigan up by only one point with a minute left.
“There’s no words to describe it,” Flaherty said. “What we’ve been going through the past couple of games, it’s just a reminder to all of us that we can win and we can be one of the best teams.”
Mitchell followed up Flaherty with a layup of her own before making a huge defensive block on the ensuing Hawkeye possession, which ultimately ended with a turnover. In her first start since the Wolverines’ last win, Mitchell finished with her first career double-double on 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Michigan’s comeback started in the third quarter when it changed its defensive strategy. After Iowa plowed through the Wolverines’ man-to-man defense to open the second half on a 6-0 run, Barnes Arico called a timeout and switched to a triangle-and-two defense. She also subbed out freshman center Hallie Thome for Mitchell, who added the physical grit that Michigan needed.
When the clock started, Michigan went on a 12-0 run to close the scoring deficit to just seven points as the Wolverines face-guarded the Hawkeyes’ two starting point guards.
“Even if a post player got the ball, they were immediately shaded or doubled,” Barnes Arico said. “It just got Iowa out of what they wanted to do, and they were never really able to get in rhythm again.”
Iowa, which didn’t stand a chance against a Michigan team quickly gaining momentum, went on another four-minute scoring drought in the final frame. At that point, the Wolverines opened with a pair of 3-pointers from junior guard Danielle Williams and freshman guard Nicole Munger.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t score for the final 1:51 of the game, resorting to fouling to try to inch back into the game.
But by that point, the game was decided, and Michigan finally found itself on the other end of a nail-biting game.
“We’ve been tested like that so many times in different situations, and we’re just sick of losing, sick of working so hard and coming out on the opposite end,” Flaherty said. “It was our time to close a game out.”