After beating San Diego State, 92-57, on Friday, the Michigan women’s basketball team had its second opportunity to defeat a top-10 team this season. Instead, the margin this time was wider, as the Wolverines fell 84-64 to No. 9 UCLA on Sunday.
It was never a close game. The Bruins went on a 14-0 run before Michigan managed a single point, and they refused to give up that lead.
Michigan’s leading scorer, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, had a hard time getting through the Bruins’ tough defense in the first three periods. Flaherty had just five points going into the second half, despite averaging 20.1 per game this season. But UCLA guard Jordin Canada was difficult competition.
“(Canada) is really an exceptional player,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “All around player, great passer, great scorer, great defender. I remember watching her in high school on film one night … and my husband looked up and goes, ‘Man that girl can play quarterback for my football team, the way she runs her team and the way she can throw those passes.’ And not much has changed since her high school days. She’s really a special player.”
Despite her competition, Flaherty exploded in the fourth quarter, scoring nine points on 3-for-4 shooting. Flaherty’s nine points in the frame tied senior guard Siera Thompson’s record of 215 career 3-pointers. It was not enough to make up the deficit, though.
In addition to Flaherty’s 14 points, three other Wolverines tallied double digits. Freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick scored 18, sophomore forward Hallie Thome added another 15 and junior guard Jillian Dunston scored 10.
Gondrezick was the only double-digit scorer who is not a starter for Michigan. As a freshman, she has made quite an impact off the bench, capitalizing on opportunities when Flaherty is getting targeted on defense as she was Sunday night.
“(Gondrezick is) just the presence that we need alongside of Katelynn and Siera,” Barnes Arico said. “Hopefully people start keying on her. And then we talk about it all the time, the other team’s best defender is guarding Katelynn, their second best defender is guarding (Thompson), their third-best defender is guarding our next guard and that gives a great matchup for a kid like Kysre. And she really took advantage of it tonight.”
Despite some bright spots, the Wolverines struggled. The lack of scoring early on meant that Michigan could never set up its defense fully. The Wolverines also ran into trouble when Thome had three fouls in the first half, which presented an obstacle that was too big to overcome.
“They were really able to face guard (Flaherty) with Canada,” Barnes Arico said. “And then they used their lane on Siera, and then to boot, Hallie goes and gets in foul trouble. And I think really that would probably be the turning point there, when we didn’t have (Thome). We had really no inside presence. Once we were able to get her back in, she scores a couple buckets, and that relieves some of the pressure on the outside.
Even though Michigan was unable to topple the Bruins, the trip to California had some redeeming factors. The San Diego State game was the antithesis of the UCLA game. The Wolverines never once fell behind, ending the game with several impressive statistics.
Thompson had her first double-double of the season, scoring 11 points and notching 11 assists. She broke her previous career record of eight assists. Gondrezick proved to be consistent with 18 points, and Flaherty had 21 points in just 26 minutes of playing time.
Another freshman, guard Akienreh Johnson, notched her first double-digit scoring game of the season, putting up 10 points.
“Akienreh was unbelievable,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought she just stayed within herself. I thought she made open baskets, she rebounded the heck out of the ball and she was phenomenal.”
Though the game against the Aztecs ended in victory for the Wolverines, Michigan will be leaving California with a sour taste in its mouth. The Wolverines learned that they can’t rely solely on offense, and even with high scoring, they can still be defeated. Defense has to be a priority, or teams like UCLA will exploit it every time.