DETROIT — For the seniors, for a banner and to prove the NCAA selection committee wrong — these three reasons urged the Michigan women’s basketball team forward during its postseason appearances.
It’s for those three reasons that the Wolverines, led by Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, battled Kent State, Wright State, St. John’s, Virginia Tech and Villanova to get to Saturday’s contest against Georgia Tech.
And, most importantly, it’s for those three reasons that Michigan is going to get to hang its first banner in Crisler Center, after defeating the Yellow Jackets in triple overtime, 89-79. It was the first time in history that a WNIT final went into even a single overtime.
“Our mood was ‘We have another quarter,’ ” said senior guard Siera Thompson. “They keep giving us another chance to win this game and we never had any doubt in our mind. We kept fighting, we came this far, and we weren’t gonna lose this game.”
The Wolverines (28-9 overall) hosted Georgia Tech (22-15) at Detroit Mercy in Calihan Hall on Saturday. The last time Michigan and the Yellow Jackets met was on Dec. 1 for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, where the Wolverines broke away with a 92-52 victory. But, like Barnes Arico warned after the Villanova game on March 29, this would be a completely different team.
With nine seconds left in the game, the Wolverines were down by three. Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, though, had the ball, took a deep three and made the shot. It was tied at 67 with 9.6 seconds left.
“I took the shot,” Flaherty said. “I knew we didn’t have much time left. I figured it was the best shot to take and it just happened to go in.”
Georgia Tech still had a chance to claim victory, and with 0.6 seconds left in the game, a foul was called on Michigan. An excruciating minute later —in which the referees reviewed the play — it became clear that the game was going to be decided by a pair of free throws. But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t capitalize and went 0-for-2, sending the game to its first overtime.
Five minutes were put on the clock, and sophomore center Hallie Thome beat out Georgia Tech’s center in the tip-off, leading to a personal layup not long after. Williams then went 1-for-2 on free throws, pushing Michigan ahead, 70-67.
With a minute to go, the Yellow Jackets hit their own three. Again, the game was tied. Thompson took the ball downcourt, and a timeout was called with 10.9 seconds left to go, but Michigan couldn’t put the game to bed.
The Wolverines went into their second overtime. It was 76-74 with 14.1 on the clock, and a Georgia Tech player broke away for a layup, leaving senior guard Danielle Williams on the floor and the Wolverines with possession. Michigan couldn’t take the game, though, and — once again — it was pushed into its third overtime.
This time, sophomore guard Jillian Dunston predicted her team would win by 10 — a prediction that pushed the team through.
“We knew this was it,” Flaherty said. “We were running out of gas. We knew they were tired. We just pushed through. (Dunston said it) at the beginning of the third overtime. It happened, and we just believed her.”
After four points by Thome and two apiece for Flaherty and Munger, the game had 19.5 seconds left and Michigan was sitting with a 10-point advantage.
Barnes Arico threw a thumbs up to the crowd, the clock wound down and Michigan had a championship victory on its resume.
“It was a long battle through the year, but at the end we’re on top and that’s what’s good,” Thompson said, who currently holds three program records for games played (41), minutes played (4,776) and total assists (545). She played for the entirety of the game.
The game started as tense and hectic as the ending. Within 34 seconds, Thome committed her first personal foul, ensuring the first two points on the board were from Georgia Tech’s forward Zaire O’Neil in a pair of free throws.
It was fitting that the Wolverines’ two seniors made the team’s first five points of the game, with Williams’ classmate, Thompson joining her on the statsheet with a field goal after Williams converted from beyond the arc.
It was sophomore guard Nicole Munger who pushed the Wolverines ahead of the Yellow Jackets for the first time with a 3-pointer that made the game 15-14 with just over a minute left of play in the first — a scoreline that remained unchanged going into the second period. Michigan was winning despite shooting just 27 percent from the floor.
In a media timeout with 4:44 left to go in the second quarter, each team totaled four fouls and Michigan was down by four. Notably, up to this point, Flaherty had only posted a pair of free throws.
In true Flaherty fashion, though, this slump didn’t last for long. After going 0-for-7 in field goals and 0-4 in 3-pointers, Flaherty hit a layup and a 3-pointer to push the score in favor of the Wolverines. After taking a hit in the face during a frenzy dive for the basketball — something the referees didn’t make a call on — Flaherty got called for her own foul downcourt on the same player, Georgia Tech’s O’Neil.
The game got uglier, another foul got called on Georgia Tech and Thome converted in the bonus to leave the score at 28-25. Going into halftime, the Yellow Jackets had made a pair of free throws, making it a one-point game.
The first major advantage of the game — a lead over four points — went to the Wolverines after a field goal from junior guard Jillian Dunston. Another two-point field goal from Thome had Michigan in a 38-33 position in the third quarter.
The Wolverines lost that edge, though, with around a minute left to go in the third period when the Yellow Jackets tied it at 40. With a defensive rebound, Georgia Tech was able to bring it down court for a layup with no Wolverine to defend them. Another foul on Georgia Tech’s O’Neil gave Flaherty a chance to make three free throws. Going 3-for-3, Flaherty brought her teammates into the fourth period leading, 43-42.
The game wound down in a back and forth affair, and with roughly five minutes to go in the game, Barnes Arico called a time out with her team trailing by four. The Wolverines were in a hole, but a shallow one. The crowd’s roar overtook the stadium, deafening the arena. The championship victory was still possible.
From there, the Wolverines managed to push the game to three overtimes.
“We wore the other team down,” Barnes Arico said.
And the rest — as Michigan’s future banner will tell — is Crisler Center history.