For the second time this season, the Wolverines are hoping to scare off some Badgers.
The No. 21 Michigan women’s basketball team will be hosting Wisconsin in its annual Pink Game for breast cancer awareness Sunday. The Wolverines (9-2 Big Ten, 20-5 overall) are coming off their 20th win of the season after dominating Purdue, 72-61, and have yet to lose at Crisler Center.
“It’s just another game,” said freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick after a win against Iowa on Feb. 5. “But, ultimately, we talk about protecting the ‘M’ and protecting our own court.”
The team motto, according to Gondrezick, has been to “just find a way to win.” For the Wolverines, the crux of that has been Gondrezick, who scored a career-high 25 points to notch her fourth 20-plus scoring performance of the year. Gondrezick went 9-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from the 3-point range.
The success against the Boilermakers was rounded out with contributions from sophomore Hallie Thome, junior guards Katelynn Flaherty and Jillian Dunston and senior guard Siera Thompson. Remarkably, Thompson played all 40 minutes of the contest.
The defense, led by Dunston, has proven to be the backbone of this team. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has worked to improve both press and zone defense on her squad, which was evident in the come-from-behind victory against Iowa in the final minute.
“I think what happens sometimes, and it’s happened to us in the past, is when you change defenses and then come back to an old defense it shakes it up a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “So when we went zone and then we save the press kind of until the end … it was more effective than just doing it all the time.”
But, it’s hard to fathom Michigan needing that much strategy in its upcoming contest.
The impending matchup with the Badgers (1-10, 6-18) won’t be too threatening for the Wolverines. They are ranked for the first time since 2013 and have won 20 of its first 25 games for the first time in program history, while Wisconsin has only won one game against a conference team.
The Badgers most recent game was that first win on Thursday against Nebraska. Wisconsin is sporting top players in junior guard Cayla McMorris and fifth-year senior forward Avyanna Young. The two lead the team, averaging 12.9 and 10.2 points per game, respectively.
Yet, the Badgers poor shooting has hindered the team. They rank last overall in the Big Ten conference, and 13th — in front of only Rutgers — in scoring and field goal percentage. Wisconsin has managed to shoot just 46 percent from the field, compared to its opponents, who have averaged 45.
In the last meeting between the Wolverines and the Badgers, Michigan swept the court, 73-56. Thome led the charge with 37 points and 14 rebounds, while going 13-for-15 from the floor and 11-for-13 from the free throw line.
The Wolverines trailed by a point after the first quarter but managed to hold a seven-point lead at halftime to head a breakaway for the win. Wisconsin tends to lead strong, but Michigan matches that with its reputation of breaking away during the third quarter and suppressing its opponents on the defensive end.
Michigan hopes to continue its home-court success while also notching another win against the Badgers. Its win streak at Crisler brings confidence, but no Michigan player wants to sit comfortably and assume a win.
“Definitely looking at other team’s records (helps),” Thome said. “You have the (other team’s numbers) to prove that you can beat them. But, I think that in the Big Ten, any day, it’s like any team can step up and beat you. The Big Ten, knowing what kind of conference it is, you just got to bring your best game every day.”