With one minute left in the third quarter of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s matchup against Minnesota on Sunday, Katelynn Flaherty was not playing like her usual self. Her teammates and coaches praise her shooting stroke, saying they feel sometimes like every shot she puts up will go in. The sophomore guard was having a lackluster day, so she decided to pass.
Flaherty’s pass from the arc to the right block near the baseline ended up in the hands of senior guard Madison Ristovski for an improbable but momentum-building bucket. It was a close call, but like the rest of the game, the Wolverines found a way to score when it mattered most.
“That was a new play we just put in,” Flaherty said. “It was funny because (Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico) was like, ‘Throw it if it’s there.’ Then I waited one second and was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to throw it.’ It was a great play, and I’m happy we executed it well.”
Flaherty and others set up freshman center Hallie Thome for a career-high 31 points. Michigan (4-6 Big Ten, 12-9 overall) also made 25 free throws off 26 fouls, an important factor in its 92-76 victory.
The teams got off to a slow start, as the Wolverines led, 8-7, by the first timeout with 4:59 left in the first quarter. Michigan has become accustomed to run-and-gun style games when it has to score large amounts of points in transition. The Gophers (6-4, 14-7) slowed the pace of the game down, and by shooting 4-for-11 from distance in the opening stanza — 8-for-31 in total — they led 22-16 at the end of the quarter.
Minnesota’s next 3-pointer by guard Shayne Mullaney gave the Golden Gophers a seven-point lead early in the second quarter. A minute later, the Wolverines missed two 3s but regained possession with two offensive rebounds as Flaherty scored her first basket of the game after missing her first three shots.
Michigan closed the gap to two at the next timeout with 4:39 left in the second quarter by way of feeding the ball into the post, especially to freshman center Hallie Thome. Two possessions later, junior guard Siera Thompson’s and-one gave the Wolverines a 34-31 lead. They rode the momentum to carry a 44-39 advantage into halftime. Thome led all scorers with 18 points in the half.
“Every time they went on a run, we had an answer,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Hallie was a dominating presence for us inside … For her to be able to come in as a freshman and score 31 points and have an incredible day like she did today, that’s pretty special.”
The teams got off to a crawling start again at the beginning of the third quarter, as they combined for just eight points in the first three minutes after the halftime break. Michigan continued to dish the ball to Thome, as she used her height advantage and post moves to earn easy layups. The Gophers led for a short amount of time midway through the quarter, but with four minutes left in the third, a layup by freshman guard Boogie Brozoski gave the Wolverines the upper hand again.
Thome passed her career high in the third quarter, giving her 26 points on the afternoon. Soon thereafter, Flaherty’s 3-pointer gave Michigan a nine-point advantage on what started as a relatively quiet performance from the Wolverines’ top scorer.
Boosted by Flaherty’s improved shooting and Thome’s prowess down low, Michigan took a 64-55 advantage into the final quarter.
Minnesota cut the lead to two with just over six minutes left in the final stanza, but Flaherty came alive to score two quick baskets. Senior forward Kelsey Mitchell’s layup with 4:27 left gave Michigan an eight-point lead. The Wolverines had no problem closing out the lead from there, which is something it has struggled with all season.
“In practice, we’ve really been focused on finishing games,” Flaherty said. “We’re valuing the ball, loose balls and charges. That really helped us win today.”
Unlike Flaherty’s assist, Michigan didn’t just slip by with the win. It took command in a much-needed conference matchup in a turbulent season.