As the clock ran out in the first quarter, Katelynn Flaherty pulled up from the far right side at midcourt. The ball swished perfectly through the net.
“When I saw it was high enough, I was like, ‘It feels pretty good,’ ” Flaherty said. “Then it went in I was like, ‘Wow, that’ll never happen again.’ ”
It was that kind of day for the No. 19 Michigan women’s basketball, as it went on to defeat Illinois by 44 points, 86-42.
After allowing a quick five points to start the game, the Wolverines (6-2 Big Ten, 17-4 overall) were locked in. Throughout the final 8:10 of the quarter, Michigan outscored the Fighting Illini 24 to seven. The strong play in the first was the byproduct of team basketball.
Though, as often is the case, senior guard Flaherty was the star of the quarter. After missing her first three shots, Flaherty hit three straight 3s, including her half-court heave. Her typical strong performance continued, as she finished with 27 points, eight assists, four rebounds and four steals.
After the opening surge, the Wolverines cooled off. Michigan and Illinois (0-7, 9-12) were even in the second, scoring 12 a piece. The Wolverines went through a four-minute drought without a basket, but were able to maintain a lead with solid defense. The only place the Fighting Illini found some success in the first half was from behind the arc; 50 percent of their first-half points came off 3s.
While Michigan’s defense was extremely good in the first half, it was even better in the second.
“We did a really good job in the first half of taking away the foul line,” said coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They made some shots late in the shot clock and some off offensive rebounds (in the first half). So we knew if we could clean that up a little bit, we would be able to get more stops.”
And that’s exactly what they did. The Wolverines allowed just four points in the third quarter and 18 total points in the second half. Comparatively, Flaherty scored 14 and freshman forward Hailey Brown scored 11 in the second half.
Brown had one of the best games of her young career, finishing with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, a career-high 14 rebounds and one block. She was a force down low, where Michigan outscored Illinois 40 to 12.
“We knew when Hailey committed to us that she would be an outstanding addition to our program,” Barnes Arico said. “Hailey just keeps grinding, just keeps working and improving each and every single day. Last week she was recognized as freshman of the week nationally.”
Throughout the game, the Wolverines were able to create offense from their defense. Michigan forced 21 Fighting Illini turnovers, scoring 31 points off those mistakes. Illinois, on the other hand, had just two points off turnovers and four steals. Junior guard Nicole Munger had five steals of her own.
While it’s always nice to win by 44, the Wolverines shouldn’t be too surprised — the Fighting Illini have now lost eight straight.
Don’t expect it to be this easy when the Wolverines face rival Michigan State this Tuesday.