After the first half of the Michigan women’s basketball game Tuesday night, it looked like Ohio (7-1) was within reach of a comeback, trailing just 27-21. Yet, after halftime, the Wolverines (9-3) looked like a different team, scoring 29 points in the third period alone, and eventually beating the previously undefeated Bobcats, 69-46.
Michigan had just come back from a two-game weekend in California, where it beat San Diego State but lost handily to No. 9 UCLA.
“We just have had a long stretch,” said junior guard Katelynn Flaherty. “We just played in California two days ago, so it was really hard coming back and then having practice the next day when you get in so late.”
The exhaustion was apparent on the court as well. The Wolverines could not sink a 3-pointer for the majority of the first half, instead earning 12 of their 27 points from the free throw line, while committing 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Flaherty, the Wolverines leading scorer, shot just 10 percent from the field and was 0-for-5 on 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Hallie Thome — whose 6-foot-5 frame could have given her a huge advantage against the smaller Ohio players down low — fouled out after less than 10 minutes.
“I thought (Flaherty) passed on some open looks at the beginning of the game,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(She) really tried to get the ball to Hallie. She just needed a little reminder, like, ‘(Flaherty), you’re one of the greatest shooters in the country. If you have an open look, your first look is to shoot the basketball.’ We really tried to force the ball to Hallie early on and it made us have a ton of turnovers, and I thought we did a much better job of that in the second half.”
Despite the first half difficulties, Michigan was able to turn its game around to win by a comfortable 23-point margin.
Flaherty hit the court for the second half with a renewed determination, leading to a final tally of 25 points. Along the way, she surpassed the 1500-point mark, becoming the seventh Wolverine in program history to do so.
“Sometimes I force too many passes,” Flaherty said. “When you play a team like UCLA, you have different looks. So just shooting my first open shot when you play teams like this is definitely something I have to keep in mind.”
Senior guard Siera Thompson also spearheaded the winning effort, contributing her second double-double in just three games. Though, Thompson had just three points in the first half, she finished with 10 points and twelve rebounds, 10 of which were on the defensive glass.
“Our mental focus was off in the first half,” Thompson said. “We came out kind of lackadaisical in the first half and the combination of playing two days ago and finals week, we don’t want to make excuses but we weren’t mentally prepared tonight when we came out.”
Michigan needed a spark to turn the game around, and it took extra effort to find that. Two players who are normally responsible for coming off the bench and providing that momentum were all but nonexistent.
Sophomore guards Nicole Munger and Boogie Brozoski tend to make the difference in close games by bringing energy and grit.
Brozoski, who has played in nine games this season and averages 5.6 points, decided to transfer to another school. Her announcement was made public just before tipoff. Her contributions —especially in assists, where she ranked fifth for Michigan — were missed in the tight Ohio game.
Munger played just five total minutes. She missed Sunday’s game against UCLA due to a potential foot injury, but was cleared to play Tuesday evening. But it seemed Barnes Arico was trying to ease her back into the lineup, and she wasn’t given the opportunity to make her normal impact for the Wolverines.
“I think Nicole Munger definitely gives us a spark,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s an energizer for us and she’s usually the top of our press. With her not out there, it kind of changes our rotation in that press, so it’s not the same. She definitely would have contributed more for us pressing.”
Even though Michigan started off slow, it was able to prove its character and make up for a less than ideal start. But the tough schedule that the Wolverines have been playing does not ease up just yet. They will play two more non-conference games before entering into the second, and arguably tougher, half of the season.