The No. 24 Michigan women’s basketball team went on a rollercoaster Thursday night in Louisville.
And it was a bumpy one.
After leading by five after the first half, the Wolverines were outscored 42-12 in the final two quarters, falling to No. 5 Louisville, 74-49, in the Preseason WNIT semifinals.
As with any rollercoaster, the beginning was manageable and Michigan looked to have properly fastened its seatbelt. The Wolverines started off hot, led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty. She drained three consecutive 3-pointers early in the game to give her team a spark, and she tallied on another one before the quarter ended.
“Yeah, I mean we came out and we were able to make shots early,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to WTKA. “Kate was off to a great start. We did a really good job of finding her early.”
The Cardinals played aggressively from the start with a defensive press — creating problems for Michigan. The Wolverines handled it well, though, with decisive ball movement that helped them make the most out of their scoring opportunities.
Michigan’s defense held up well throughout the first quarter, led by senior forward Jillian Dunston. She finished the night with 13 rebounds and five steals. The Cardinals still found the basket, though, and Michigan had a 22-21 lead at the end of the quarter. The Wolverines seemed to be handling the ride well.
The second quarter was fairly smooth as well. Michigan found a steadier offensive tempo while Flaherty continued to shine, forcing a Louisville timeout.
The timeout was exactly what the Cardinals needed, though. They turned their defense up a notch, forcing more turnovers and not giving the Wolverines any space to operate. Michigan struggled to get shots up, and had multiple shot clock violations. Louisville maintained this tight defense until halftime, and started to look much stronger than the Wolverines, who somehow managed to hang on to a 37-32 lead at halftime.
The end of the second quarter turned out to be a trial run for the rest of the game, as the Wolverines couldn’t hang on anymore. It was the point in the ride where you teeter at the top of the hill in anticipation, and then come plummeting down at full force — that period where you think you can handle it, and then a moment later everything takes a turn for the worst.
The Cardinals dominated the entire second half, going on a 7-0 run following halftime. The ride was rough for the Wolverines, who struggled to find the rim. They went nearly six minutes into the second half without scoring, and tallied just four points by the end of the third quarter. At that point, Louisville controlled all aspects of the game, and Michigan trailed by 10 points.
“We got really stagnant on offense, and I think we have to get better at that,” Barnes Arico said. “They turned up their defense and they overplayed, and we didn’t handle the pressure as well as we’re capable of.”
Not much changed in the fourth quarter — just more bumps and rough patches. The Wolverines failed to box out well, and Louisville took advantage, finishing the game with 35 rebounds — 12 of which came on offense. To make matters worse, junior center Hallie Thome fouled out and everything started to collapse.
While it was a rough ride, Michigan still had positive takeaways from the game.
Before Thursday night, Flaherty needed just nine points to pass Diane Dietz’s program scoring record. She accomplished the feat in style with five 3-pointers, finishing with 23 points.
“I’ve heard about Katelynn since she’s been in about the third grade,” Barnes Arico said. “We lived in the same state and it was going around that there was this third grade girl that was incredible.”
“She was eight then (and) she’s 22 now and I’m lucky to be her coach,” Barnes Arico added. “She’s a legend. She’s a legend in the state of New Jersey, and she will be a legend at the University of Michigan.”
There was also the adrenaline rush when the Wolverines had the upper hand in the first half. They showed they can compete with high-caliber teams, but now need to figure out how to do so for four quarters.
If Michigan does learn, it might be able to design the tracks moving forward.
“We have to use it for a learning tool,” Barnes Arico said. “We obviously have a long season ahead and have to move forward, and we saw what we are capable of in the first half.”