With a little over three minutes remaining in the game and her team trailing, 51-49, senior guard Katelynn Flaherty dribbled the ball near the top of the key. A 3-pointer was what she needed. It would have pushed the Wolverines in front of their opponents — a position they hadn’t been in since the first quarter. But as the shot-clock ran out, Flaherty attempted a well-contested triple and was smothered by defenders.
That was the moment the Cornhuskers took full command, as they quickly converted on the ensuing fast-break. Despite several late chances, the Michigan women’s basketball team (10-6 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) fell, 61-54, to Nebraska (11-5, 21-9). The loss eliminated the Wolverines from the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind.
“I thought it was a really good basketball game,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Nebraska came out of the gates super physical with us and took away a lot of our options early on. … They’re a really solid team, and it’s a credit to their players for making the plays they had to make down the stretch to be successful.”
The Wolverines were down, 37-30, nearing the two-minute mark in the third quarter when Flaherty intercepted a pass and sprinted down the court. She tried lobbing the ball to sophomore guard Akienreh Johnson in the paint, but ended up turning the ball over.
Things kept getting in the way whenever Flaherty, the team’s leading scorer and playmaker, tried to build momentum. Near the end of the third frame, Flaherty made a shot from beyond the arc near the right wing. It would have marked her 400th career 3-pointer, but instead it was called back due to a moving screen from a teammate. Although she still passed that milestone shortly after, it exemplified the type of night she was having. She scored 17 points by the final buzzer but never truly settled in, finishing just 6-of-20 from the field.
Michigan was behind, 37-33, heading into the final interval. The team seemed to play with a sense of urgency in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.
For the most part, the first half was close. Center Kate Cain excelled early on for the Cornhuskers, creating a tough matchup against junior center Hallie Thome. Cain defended the paint confidently and had five blocks in the first half. Despite being closely-defended, Thome still performed quite well and led Michigan with 21 points.
Spurred by Cain, Nebraska’s solid defense made it difficult for the Wolverines to create good scoring chances. The Cornhuskers couldn’t take control, though, as Michigan’s defense excelled too. There were seven lead changes in the opening stanza, but guard Emily Wood drained a 3-pointer from the left wing with five seconds remaining. The Wolverines trailed, 15-11, heading into the second period and trailed for the rest of the contest as well.
Cain continued to set the tone for Nebraska’s defense throughout the second frame. In fact, she blocked Thome’s shot from the paint on Michigan’s first possession once play resumed.
The Cornhuskers also crashed the boards hard. They grabbed eight offensive boards by the end of the first half, creating important second-chance scoring opportunities.
The Wolverines stayed in the game but clearly lagged behind due to offensive struggles. They shot just 25 percent from the field in the first half and finished the night at 31.1 percent — their worst shooting percentage of the season.
There were plenty of turnovers, too. Michigan racked up 15 as a team, including a crucial miscue when an inbounds pass from Johnson — intended for freshman guard Deja Church on Michigan’s side of the court — was intercepted by Nebraska’s Hannah Whitish midway through the second quarter. Whitish — who led her side in scoring, with 17 points — then fired in a triple from the right wing, and the Wolverines called a timeout as they trailed, 24-19.
But the timeout wasn’t all that effective. Nebraska hit another 3-pointer a couple possessions later, this time from guard Nicea Eliely, who finished with 12 points. A four-point deficit at halftime would prove insurmountable.
Following the loss, Michigan’s fate now lies in the hands of the NCAA Tournament selection committee. The Wolverines will wait to hear whether they will finally get a spot on the big stage, or whether they are headed back to the WNIT.
“This year we have a bunch of top-25 wins. … Our conference is significantly better,” Barnes Arico said. “So we think we’ve done what we needed to do. But now it’s up to seeing what the committee thinks, and I think we can’t count on that until next Monday night when we see what happens.”