UM advances in WNIT; Kysre Gondrezick on indefinite leave

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

One Michigan basketball team remains alive in postseason play.

The Michigan women's team, behind some stifling second-half defense, beat St. John's, 60-40, at Crisler Center on Thursday night, advancing to the Women's National Invitation final eight.

One more win, and the Wolverines (25-9) will make the WNIT Final Four for a third consecutive year, as they continue their effort to prove the NCAA Selection Committee made a big mistake in leaving them out of the field this season.

The game ended as the Michigan men were at halftime of its eventual loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

"I was incredibly, incredibly proud as a coach, one of my proudest moments, in the way our team rallied and played tonight," Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after her team's victory. "We defended our butts off."

BOX SCORE: Michigan 60, St. John's 40

Michigan trailed by a point, 30-29, at halftime, but limited St. John's (22-12) to a remarkable 10 points the rest of the way, four in the fourth quarter.

The 40 points allowed are the fewest Michigan has given up since it held American to 33 back in December.

Darn impressive for a Wolverines team known much more this season for its potent offense, which was limited in the first half -- leading to some frustrating looks as Michigan entered the locker room at halftime.

"It was important for us and our staff to keep encouraging our kids," Arico said. "Just keep your heads up and we'll wear them down."

No kidding.

Michigan moves on to play Virginia Tech (20-13), a 64-55 winner over Penn State on Thursday. That game, also at Crisler, is set for 2 p.m. Saturday.

Sophomore center Hallie Thome led Michigan with 19 points, while junior guard Katelynn Flaherty scored 17.

Michigan's offense was dealt a blow by the notable absence of freshman Kysre Gondrezick, Michigan's Miss Basketball in 2016 who averaged more than 15 points a game entering play Thursday. A team spokesperson said she is taking an indefinite leave of absence for "personal reasons." Gondrezick played in the second-round WNIT victory over Wright State, finishing with 14 points.

The game pitted Arico for the first time against her former team, St. John's, where she coached for 10 years before leaving for Michigan in 2012.

"I was pretty sick about it for the last few days," Arico said. "It's tough, and I think more from the outside noises of my family wanting to fly in, my uncle coming in, seeing some people I haven't seen in a long time. There's a lot of memories there, which stir up a lot of things.

"A very positive experience. St. John's gave me my first opportunity at the Division I level, so I'm always loyal to them. So just a lot of memories."

Jade Walker scored 10 and Maya Singleton had 12 rebounds for St. John’s, which is coached by Joe Tartamella, who was a graduate assistant under Arico when she was at St. John’s.

Both coaching staffs are loaded with friends and colleagues -- current and former -- of Arico.

Michigan forced 20 turnovers and won the rebounding battle, 41-34.

Michigan has won three straight games since it was left out of the NCAA Tournament, despite finishing in third place in the Big Ten in the regular season.