Michigan’s Hallie Thome takes center stage

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Hallie Thome has developed into one of the premier centers in the Big Ten, giving the Wolverines a strong inside-outside presence with senior guard Katelynn Flaherty.

Thome, a 6-foot-5 junior, is ninth in the Big Ten in scoring (15.9) points and second in field goal percentage, making 64 percent of her shots from the field to help Michigan to a 13-4 start (2-2 Big Ten).

The No. 23 Wolverines will play host to Indiana tonight. They are 0-4 against ranked opponents and will get another crack at No. 10 Ohio State in Columbus Jan. 16 after falling to the Buckeyes 78-71 in overtime Sunday at the Crisler Center.

Thome was at her best against Ohio State, scoring 27 with eight rebounds, making 12-of-20 shots from the field off multiple post moves.

In fact, Thome was the main reason the Wolverines were in position to pull off the upset, earning a 64-62 lead and having the ball with 20 seconds left before failing to close out the game.

“She’s got outstanding footwork and she’s a really skilled post,” praised Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico of Thome. “She was coming off a really good game (20 points, 8-of-12 shooting in win at Wisconsin) and we had talked about trying to establish her early and get the ball to her early. She was outstanding and the difference for us.”

Flaherty missed a driving layup with Michigan owning the 64-62 lead with 20 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, then misfired on an off balance 3-point try as time expired in regulation.

No doubt, Flaherty is Michigan’s go-to player, averaging 22.9 points, but Barnes Arico wants Thome to stay aggressive when the game is on the line the rest of the season.

“I think the last possession (of regulation) we had the ball in her hands,” said Barnes Arico of Thome. “She was a little bit away from the basket for sure. She could have faced up, she could have passed off of it too, other than Kate. I think she was kind of locked into Kate and I think the whole team was locked into Kate and in that situation probably someone else has got to make a play because the other team is so keyed into Kate.

“She (Thome) was thinking to be a passer because she was trying to execute the play instead of being aggressive. I will make sure moving forward and say, ‘Like, Hal your dominant there, get it back and repost.’ We had a lot of time and we needed to get a post touch.”

Yes, Barnes Arico wants to make sure Thome knows she is a primary option and a high percentage choice with her ability to now dominate inside.

It’s not that big things weren’t expected from Thome heading into her junior year. After all, she averaged 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds last season, shooting 61.3 percent from the field, but the Wolverines stumbled down the stretch, losing not only their top-25 ranking but also an NCAA tournament bid. They won the WNIT championship.

Thome scored a career-high 37 in a win over Wisconsin last season, grabbed 17 rebounds that same season against Minnesota. She has now scored 20 or more points in three of her last four games this season.

Thome feels confident, a reason for her big season.

“I think confidence, my coaches and teammates have always had confidence in me, but personally I have confidence to go up strong and create more plays because they’ve been getting me the ball in the right position,” Thome said. “I feel I’ve improved defensively, but I have to continue to improve on defense and my rebounding, but I’ve taken steps in the right direction.”

Michigan is getting things done on the defensive end, ranking second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (59.7) and fifth in field goal defense (.364), a reason the Wolverines are putting themselves in position to earn their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2013.