Waco, Texas — Michigan’s roster full of NCAA Tournament rookies handled the big stage like seasoned veterans as they dismantled Northern Colorado.
The Wolverines women’s basketball team clamped down on the Bears on the defensive end and scored consistently from point-blank range on offense to produce a 75-61 victory on Friday afternoon at the Ferrell Center.
Even when Northern Colorado shifted gears in the second half, going with an all-guard lineup to neutralize Michigan center Hallie Thome, the Wolverines reacted by going to the basket for layups.
“Definitely when you see a smaller roster you get excited, but then you get a little nervous on defense with their speed,” Thome said. “But I think my team definitely did help me and the whole time I was out there I could hear Kayla Robbins on the court screaming ‘Hallie, you got it. You’re good, you’re good.’ Just having my team have my back and knowing they know I can get a stop on defense definitely helps.”
The Wolverines (23-9) advance to the second round to face Baylor on Sunday at the Ferrell Center.
Thome finished with 24 points to lead Michigan. Point guard Katelynn Flaherty added 20 and forward Jillian Dunston contributed six points, nine rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal.
“Our kids felt really confident in their prep,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Jillian Dunston led the way. I thought she did just a tremendous job on (Bears point guard) Savannah Smith in the first half and that’s key to their team.”
Northern Colorado changed its lineup beginning in the third quarter, keeping 6-foot-3 center Bridget Hintz and 6-0 forward Abby Kain on the bench and rolling with a guard-heavy lineup.
The Bears attempted to double-team Thome with a rotation of players, all of whom gave up at least six inches to the Michigan center.
But it didn’t help Northern Colorado climb back in the game as the Wolverines didn’t flinch.
Michigan went to the basket against the smaller Bears lineup, scoring 28 points in the paint in the second half and shooting 63.6 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“I thought in the second half there were a number of times where we read the defense on their switches well and got layups,” Barnes Arico said. “I was really proud because that’s something that we’ve really been working on.”
Thome began to dominate in the second quarter when she scored seven points during a 9-3 run. Michigan used the spurt to take a 15-point lead with 6:58 to go until the break.
The Wolverines went to the break with a 36-19 advantage after outscoring the Bears 18-6 in the paint. Michigan finished the game with a 46-26 edge in the paint and a 33-18 rebounding advantage.
Northern Colorado guard Savannah Scott hit a pair of 3-pointers and led Northern Colorado with 10 points in the first half. But the Wolverines defense flustered the other Bears and held them to 33-percent shooting, while forcing 15 turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
There was a scary moment late for Michigan when freshman guard Deja Church (Southfield A&T) went down hard and stayed on the ground for several moments. Barnes Arico said Church, who tweaked an ankle earlier in the week, was fine.
Chad Conine is a freelance writer.