Indianapolis -- There was a slight delay in the Michigan women taking the court for their first game of the Big Ten Tournament against Penn State on Thursday.
As they sat in the locker room and watched Indiana and Michigan State play a four-overtime thriller, coach Kim Barnes Arico said they were cheering after every basket, hoping one team would win so they could take the court.
There were lulls in the overtime, but the Wolverines didn’t get impatient. They turned on some music and danced. To them it was just a dance party, but it could foreshadow an appearance in the “Big Dance” later this month.
That road to the NCAA Tournament started with Penn State.
After losing four of their last six games to close out the regular season, the Wolverines showed no signs of those struggles.
Led by senior guard Katelynn Flaherty (21 points) and junior center Hallie Thome (22 points), the Wolverines cruised to a 77-48 victory.
“It felt great,” Thome said. “It’s definitely a big stage to play on and it’s a great atmosphere. It felt good to get that win under our belt and gain confidence moving forward.”
Flaherty and Thome ignited things right off the bat as they combined for the first 13 points and a 13-4 lead.
Penn State slowly clawed its way back into the game before the first ten minutes were up to make the deficit 15-10.
“I think we just had to settle in,” Flaherty said. “We got defensive stops which helped us a lot and led to our offensive momentum.”
After a week of preparation, Barnes Arico emphasized the team’s one-on-one defense, especially against players like Penn State’s Teniya Page.
Senior forward Jillian Dunston held Carter to just 12 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
“I thought Jillian was outstanding on Page tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought our one-on-one defense was tremendous. We held Penn State in the 40s which is great.”
Michigan held Penn State to 36 percent shooting from the field, 15 percent on 3-pointers and forced 12 turnovers.
As much as Thome established herself down low on offense, she also dominated the boards, leading all players with nine rebounds. The Wolverines outrebounded Penn State 43-23.
“We emphasized that a lot this week in practice,” Barnes Arico said. “We thought that was an area where we could really take advantage of them.”
Michigan will now face the third-seeded Nebraska Cornhuskers Friday night at approximately 9 p.m.
The first time these teams met Michigan won on the road, 69-64 in overtime.
“I feel confident,” Thome said. “It was great game when we were there, so I think we are ready to go. We are excited, but we just have to focus on the little things and keep playing defense.”
Dylan Wallace is a freelance writer.