Typically, Kelsey Mitchell is a soft-spoken person. But on Thursday night, she screamed.
Following an emphatic block in the waning seconds in a win against Iowa, the senior forward roared after her energy-sapping rejection, staring down the Hawkeye who was sprawled out on the hardwood.
“She’s a pretty even-keel person,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “But she does show emotion, and I think her showing emotion is a really good thing.”
In her fourth career start, Mitchell took over in the fourth quarter. With 44 seconds left in the game, she scored to give the Wolverines their first lead since 1:52 remained in the first quarter. After Michigan’s deficit reached a high of 17, Mitchell led the team in the next three possessions with an offensive rebound, help on a defensive stop and another layup for a three-point lead.
It was Mitchell’s turn to step up and take the reins of her position, and on Thursday night, she made the case that her spot in the starting lineup should be cemented. Her 15-point, 11-rebound double-double led Michigan to a much-needed 82-75 win.
“It was just a rush,” Mitchell said. “I was thinking, ‘We came too far to lose now, so we might as well come out with the win. It’s just one step at a time.’ ”
The Wolverines have struggled at the ‘4’ and ‘5’ positions over the past few weeks. With the ‘4’ position in need of a consistent starter and freshman center Hallie Thome getting into foul trouble early in games, Barnes Arico needed her taller athletes to play disciplined in order to stay close against Iowa.
Thome picked up two fouls in the first minute of Michigan’s last contest against Indiana, though did not commit any in the first quarter Thursday. Her 6-foot-5 frame kept the paint guarded, and she was able to pick up six points in the quarter as her teammates easily tossed the ball over Thome’s defender for a quick catch-and-shoot layup.
At the ‘4’ position, Mitchell earned her fourth career start and scored four points to help Michigan stay tied, 19-19, with the Hawkeyes at the end of the first quarter. Her first basket came off of a slick spin move toward the basket that dizzied her Iowa counterpart. But while Thome stayed away from fouls, Mitchell fell victim to them. With 6:20 left in the second quarter, Mitchell picked up her third and was replaced by Thome.
Sophomore forward Jillian Dunston and freshman forward Sam Trammel took Mitchell’s place at the ‘4’ while she sat on the bench, but the pair only combined for two points by the end of the first half.
Thome did look hesitant at times, sometimes allowing Hawkeyes to drive into the lane without their shots being contested in the paint. With just under two minutes left, Iowa guard Whitney Jennings missed a shot from behind the 3-point arc, but was able to grab her own rebound and zip past Thome for an easy two points. The basket sparked a 7-2 Iowa run to give the Hawkeyes a 43-34 lead going into the halftime break.
“When people write up their scouting reports, the first thing they write is ‘attack Hallie Thome, she’s gonna foul,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “And we have to keep her and Kelsey in the game for us to be successful. So we’ve been working on (not fouling) all week.”
Mitchell didn’t start the second half. Instead, her spot was occupied by junior guard Danielle Williams as the Wolverines went with a small, guard-heavy lineup. Thome quickly picked up her first foul with 9:11 left in the third quarter as Iowa started the half on a 6-0 run.
Mitchell replaced Thome with 8:06 left in the third quarter. After the substitution, Michigan went on an 8-0 run, anchored by a Mitchell layup. When the Wolverines cut the deficit to one, Mitchell took over again.
“In the past, I feel like we pondered on mistakes a lot,” Mitchell said. “But in today’s game, our goal was to look past it and go with the next play.”
Mitchell came into the lineup like a whisper, but ended with a much louder pitch. The noise she made is still sounding.
“Tonight was Kelsey’s night,” Barnes Arico said.