This Saturday at Calihan Hall, the Detroit Mercy arena playing host to the Women’s NIT Championship game, the Michigan women’s basketball team did what no other team has done in program history. Showing extreme heart and determination, the Wolverines defeated Georgia Tech 89-79 to win the WNIT in a crazy back and forth game that took 3 overtimes.
Michigan had faced Georgia Tech in early December, dominating the Yellow Jackets 92-52, however it was quickly obvious that Georgia Tech was a different team than the Wolverines had faced previously. On Saturday, the Yellow Jackets were able to make good defensive adjustments in the first half, holding Michigan to 29% shooting and forcing Katelynn Flaherty to go cold from beyond the arc. Georgia Tech entered the locker room at halftime only down 28-27.
The second half of regulation belonged to Flaherty, as she scored 20 of her 27 points in the second half. After her shooting struggles in the first half, Flaherty stayed confident and her shooting rhythm came to her. With her team down three with 15 seconds left in regulation, Flaherty got the ball on the top of the key and did what Kate Flaherty does best. With time running down, Flaherty stayed composed dribbled right, using an excellent screen set by Jillian Dunston, and took a step back three from a least four feet behind the line and drained the shot with 9.6 seconds left.
With the game tied at 67 and 9.6 seconds to go, the drama was far from over. Georgia Tech dribbled down the clock and Elo Edeferioka took the last shot from the left elbow and was fouled by Siera Thompson with less than one second remaining on the clock. As Edeferioka, a 70% foul shot shooter, stepped to the line you could feel the disappointment in the air from Michigan fans, if she hit just one shot the game would surely be over. The crowd held its breath as Edeferioka missed her first and then her second shot, sending the game into overtime.
In the first overtime both teams only scored three points, sending it to overtime number two. The Wolverines were on the board first and it looked like they might pull away with the victory but then Georgia Tech got a steal and score and Flaherty’s last second go ahead shot was blocked and Michigan found themselves heading into a third overtime.
Michigan finally pulled ahead of the Yellow Jackets in the third overtime behind Nicole Munger’s strong offensive performance. Munger knocked down a right corner three to put the Wolverines up and scored 7 of her team’s 11 points of the last overtime. Fighting exhaustion, Michigan outlasted Georgia Tech pulling away 89-79, winning its first championship in program history.
Hard Work Pays Off
The Wolverines recorded their best season in program history, finishing the regular season 22-8 (11-5 Big Ten) but were snubbed by the NCAA selection committee. Devastated from being left out of the NCAA Tournament, the Wolverines took a moment to collect themselves and prepare for the WNIT. Michigan decided that it would prove to the selection committee that it had made a mistake when it passed up the Wolverines. Michigan won its first two games of the WNIT and then faced yet another obstacle, when the team announced that Kysre Gondrezick, Michigan’s third leading scorer with 14.9 points per game, was “taking a leave of absence from the women’s basketball team for personal reasons”. Michigan did not bat an eye, winning its next two games over St. John’s and Virginia Tech by 20 and 18 respectively. The team adjusted to Gondrezick’s absence by becoming more defensively oriented. Hallie Thome and Flaherty stepped up offensively for the Wolverines averaging 21.5 and 21.3 points per game respectively in the WNIT. With the excellent coaching of Kim Barnes Arico (Big Ten Coach of the Year), Michigan stepped up to the adversity and made it its goal to hang a banner for the team’s seniors. The team’s two mottos “Hardest Working Team in America” and “By Any Means” came to fruition during Saturday’s championship game.
Total Team Effort
The entire team stepped up for the Wolverines on Saturday making Saturday’s victory possible. Thome earned all-tournament honors, with 25 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks, in 52 minutes and Flaherty was named WNIT Tournament MVP after scoring 27 points and hitting a game tying 3. Battling a season long foot injury, Munger came off the bench and scored 12 points, helping Michigan pull away from Georgia Tech in the third overtime. Additionally, the Michigan bench fueled the grit and determination of the Wolverines’ on court performance, creating energy that was contagious and essential to Saturday’s long fought battle.
Jillian Dunston Shows She’s the Heart and Soul of the Wolverines
Flaherty and Thome were essential to Michigan winning its first banner, but it couldn’t have been done without the tremendous effort and heart brought by Jill Dunston. Dunston finished the game with 6 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals, however her impact on the game goes far beyond the numbers on the stat sheet. Dunston took several charges during the game, and her last charge caused Georgia Tech’s leading scorer Zaire O’Neil (21 points) to foul out late in the fourth quarter, swinging the momentum in favor of the Wolverines. Dunston brings the fire and energy to the Michigan squad and her understanding of the game and execution of the fundamentals allows her teammates to succeed. After helping free up Flaherty with a screen and watching her knock down the tying three, Dunston ran to her teammate, lifting her off the ground, showing why Dunston is so important to the Wolverines. Although Michigan has amazing talent, the team has lacked a certain fire needed to win big games. Saturday Dunston showed that she has that fire, bringing heart and soul to the Wolverines.
Seniors Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams Leave Their Mark
As KBA’s first recruited class at Michigan, Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams have helped turn around the women’s basketball program and have brought it to heights it’s never been before. Thompson is now the leader in most games played, minutes played, and assists, playing all 55 minutes of Saturday’s game. She recorded 15 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and a steal, exemplifying how she has been a stabilizing leader for Michigan for the past four seasons. Williams scored four points and snatched 5 rebounds on Saturday but her time at Michigan has been defined by the things she did that did not show up in the box score. Williams always brought energy and defense when she entered a game and made sacrifices for her team. As a leader on and off the floor, Williams always lead by example and helped motivate her team to make the final push towards the WNIT championship. These two seniors have left an incredible mark of the women’s basketball program as KBA said “Those two have meant everything to our program. This was for them and their commitment.”
With a program best 28-9 record and finally a championship banner to hang in Crisler, the Wolverines proved that they are a talented team that will go far in the future under the leadership of Kim Barnes Arico. Next season Michigan will be motivated by the new WNIT Championship banner hanging in the rafters and will look to add a Big Ten one next to it.