The Michigan women’s basketball team’s undefeated start to the season hadn’t carried much weight headed into Thursday’s game. The Wolverines had outscored each of their six opponents by an average of 34 points, running the floor on both offense and defense. Every game was decided by halftime.
Michigan needed to take on a more challenging test. It needed to face a better-known opponent, maybe even one with which the Wolverines had a history. What they got was Pittsburgh, which handed Michigan its first loss last season.
This time around, the Wolverines (7-0) passed.
Behind an explosive first half characterized by Michigan’s effective three-quarter-court press and 61-percent shooting, the Wolverines jumped out to a 22-point lead at halftime, and they never relinquished it in their 82-45 victory.
“We knew that (Pittsburgh) was gonna be scrappy, gonna play hard, gonna give us a different look than we’ve faced all year with their size, length and athleticism,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I thought we handled it exceptionally well from the start.”
Added senior guard Madison Ristovski: “We’re able to sub in and have fresh legs coming in all the time. That’s super important playing teams like Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is a good team, but we were nine deep.”
Michigan not only bested one of its demons from last season, but it also continued its perfect start to the season, reaching 7-0 for the first time since 2011 — equaling the best start in program history.
Though Katelynn Flaherty missed her first four shots, the sophomore guard still led the team with 24 points. With 1:46 left in the first quarter, Flaherty jumped to tip a pass back toward Pittsburgh’s basket, and she took it down for an uncontested layup.
That basket was the second of a 16-3 run, which lasted nearly five minutes and extended Michigan’s lead from five to 18. The Wolverines continued to make stops on defense by drawing several charges, diving for loose balls and double-teaming the Panthers’ point guards the instant they crossed the half-court line — limiting Pittsburgh (4-3) to 40.4 percent shooting.
Michigan found even greater success on its offensive end. The Wolverines shot 51.5 percent from the field and yielded the best results from their 3-point shooters. Freshman guards Boogie Brozoski and Nicole Munger each knocked down three baskets from beyond the arc and proved why they are two of the deadliest shooters on the team aside from Flaherty and junior guard Siera Thompson.
With 7:49 left in the game, Brozoski, who totaled 13 points, drained her third trey to give Michigan a 32-point lead, its largest of the night at that point.
The offense showed how balanced it could be once again, with 10 players scoring and seven others lending an assist.
“We have Katelynn Flaherty, who’s one of the best shooters in the country, on our team, and we’re not running every play for her,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re trying to find the best look — not only Katelynn. … Katelynn herself is making extra passes and not feeling the pressure of ‘I have to score’ every time.”
Where the Wolverines seemed to be lacking, though, was their rebounding game. Both freshman center Hallie Thome and sophomore forward Jillian Dunston had an unusually poor showing, combining for just seven rebounds.
Stepping into the rebounding role was junior guard Danielle Williams, who grabbed a team-high 10 boards as Michigan still outrebounded Pittsburgh, 39-25. As usual, Williams wasn’t looked to as a scorer and instead dominated under the glass while playing scrappy.
“She does the dirty work for us,” Ristovski said. “When you’re out there, you always want to be out there with Danielle, because she’s always doing the little things to help the team get better.”
The next two Sundays, Michigan will face two more teams that handed it demoralizing losses last season: Princeton and UCLA. It’s “revenge week,” as the team is calling it, so the Wolverines can’t soak in Thursday’s victory for too long.
They still have two tests left.