The Michigan women’s basketball team was up, down, up, down and up again this year. What started as a record-tying undefeated streak turned into a forgettable stretch of losses, followed by a predictable Big Ten season, a setback in the conference tournament and a late postseason run.
Yet at the end of it all, the season finished as many would have expected. On the brink of the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines’ (9-9 Big Ten, 21-14 overall) hopes were cut short, but they stepped up in the WNIT for a second consecutive year.
The Daily recaps the highlights and lowlights of the 2015-16 season.
Best game: Michigan 77, Temple 76
The best game of the year arrived late. Michigan battled Temple in the quarterfinal of the WNIT for a Final Four berth, which both teams had achieved the year before. Temple led by 15 early on, but the Wolverines rallied in the second half to close the gap. Down to the wire, the game witnessed 12 lead changes in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines trailed by only one, and the game’s final scoring chance came for Michigan. The team executed to come out on top — more on that later.
Worst game: Eastern Michigan 64, Michigan 63
For their final game before tipping off Big Ten season, the Wolverines traveled down the road to Eastern Michigan for what was supposed to be an easy win. Last season, Michigan won by 29, but on Dec. 23, the Wolverines lost all momentum before conference play.
Missed free throws were the difference maker. With the chance to tie or take the lead, freshman center Hallie Thome blanked on back-to-back attempts from the line, and the Eagles ran out the clock to stun the Wolverines.
Best individual performance: Madison Ristovski in the WNIT
While sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty was usually the one putting up points, senior guard Madison Ristovski had perhaps the best performance by any player during a four-game stretch in the WNIT. Ristovski scored 19 points with nine rebounds in the quarterfinal against Temple, and she played a crucial role in leading the Wolverines as far as they went.
Ristovski’s career at Michigan ended in a semifinal loss at Florida Gulf Coast, and despite three straight years in the WNIT, Ristovski did get a taste of the NCAA Tournament her freshman year. In the opening round of the Big Dance, she played nine minutes against then-No. 1 Stanford. Her role grew over the years, and she went out on a high note, having been named to the WNIT All-Tournament team.
Most important game: Iowa 97, Michigan 85
The Wolverines had a chance to advance past the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament and possibly boost their NCAA Tournament chances against Iowa, a team with which they split the season series.
After Thome and Michigan clobbered the Hawkeyes in the paint early, a few defensive adjustments by Iowa shut Thome down after the first quarter, and the Hawkeyes stuffed the Wolverines’ hopes of making the Big Dance.
Play of the year: Thome’s game-winner against Temple
Late in the game against Temple, Michigan was down, 76-75. With under a minute left, the Wolverines bounced four shots off the rim and grabbed each offensive rebound. On their fifth and final attempt, Thome grabbed her own board and scored the go-ahead, game-clinching basket to advance them to the semifinals.
Most valuable player: Katelynn Flaherty
This one is easy. Flaherty, a sophomore guard, was an honorable mention All-American and first team All-Big Ten. Among the nation’s top-10 scorers, she lived up to — and often exceeded — the hype surrounding her second campaign. Flaherty’s 22.1 points per game earned her the all-time single-season scoring record for Michigan women’s basketball.
Flaherty stepped into the spotlight this season after three key seniors — who accounted for more than 50 percent of the scoring and rebounds — graduated and moved on. Flaherty rarely staggered, though, and had one of the best individual seasons, if not the best season, of any Wolverine in school history.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico begins her fifth season at the helm in 2016-17, which means her impact is starting to take shape. Barnes Arico will have fully recruited each player on the roster next year, and if the success of the current underclassmen is any indicator, things are looking up.
Players like Thome and Flaherty made immediate contributions, but many underclassmen with smaller roles stepped up as well. Freshman guards Boogie Brozoski and Nicole Munger each had special moments, and sophomore forward Jillian Dunston also fought for key minutes.
Each class continues to bring more talent than the previous one. Joining the roster next year from Benton Harbor, Mich., is guard Kysre Gondrezick, who shattered the Michigan high school scoring record this year in a 72-point outing that included 10 3-pointers on 27-for-54 shooting. The class is ranked No. 13 by Prospects Nation and No. 20 by HoopGurlz. Regardless, there will be new talent in Ann Arbor next fall.