Detroit — Michigan, bitterly disappointed after being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament, chugged through the WNIT with something to prove.
The Wolverines, who set a program-record with 28 victories, defeated Georgia Tech, 89-79 in a third overtime to win the WNIT championship on Saturday afternoon. It was the first overtime championship in the WNIT and Michigan’s first three-overtime game.
It was played before 4,417 at Calihan Hall because of a scheduling conflict at the Crisler Center.
This was the first championship game for the Wolverines' women's basketball program.
Michigan star guard Katelynn Flaherty med the media folllwing the triple-OT win over Georgia Tech in the WNIT final Saturday at Calihan Hall in Detroit. Tony Paul
“I think we proved we should have been in there,” said junior Katelynn Flaherty, the championship game MVP who played 51 minutes and scored 27 points. “We’re a great team. This tournament really made us come together and definitely prepared us for next year.
“It’s a big accomplishment hanging the first banner in history in our school and that was really something I came in to do and the rest of us came in to do.”
Hallie Thome added 25 for the Wolverines (28-9), Nicole Munger scored 14 and Siera Thompson had 13 for the Wolverines. Thompson played 55 minutes, Jillian Dunston, who had 13 rebounds, three assists and two steals, and Thome each played 52, and Flaherty played 51.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico met the media following the WNIT championship Saturday at Calihan Hall in Detroit. Tony Paul
“I think they were just gonna die out on the floor,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, who completed her sixth season coaching the Wolverines. “They did not even mention (the minutes). We wore the other team down. We felt like we continued to wear ‘em down.
“I joked with them before the game began, they always get mad at me for all the conditioning and running we have done throughout the year, but we were in better shape than any team we faced in this WNIT and it would pay dividends today. It’s amazing how it did.”
It was a wild finish, completely unlike the regular-season meeting between the teams that Michigan won handily, 92-52, on Dec. 1.
Flaherty nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game 67-67 with 10 seconds left in regulation.
“I just came off the screen and saw an opportunity so I picked the shot,” she said. “I knew we were down by three, we didn’t have much time left, so I figured that was the best shot to take and it just happened to go in.”
With six seconds left, Thompson was called for the foul on Elo Edeferioka, who finished with 11 points and 17 rebounds. It looked like the Yellow Jackets would wrap up the title. She missed both free throws.
Katelynn Flaherty on playing crazy minutes and Georgia Tech's regulation FT attempts. Angelique Chengelis
“I was just hoping she’d miss,” Flaherty said. “I just knew we were going to win even when we were down and things didn’t look good I just still felt it, our team felt it. We believed in each other.”
Barnes Arico could not believe how similar this felt to her team’s one-point loss at Penn State on Feb. 26.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said her players had a lot to prove. Angelique Chengelis
“We’ve been in that situation before and I’m like, ‘Not again. Let the kids win the basketball game,’” Barnes Arico said. “Our kids just played their butt off and to get that call at the end of the game was a tough one. We battled through and our kids regrouped.”
In the first overtime, Michigan missed on a shot for the win with 10.9 left and the game tied, 70-70. Georgia Tech missed on a jumper at the buzzer in the second overtime.
The Wolverines opened the third overtime with a 3-pointer by Flaherty, to take a 79-76 lead, and Thome built an 81-76 lead after making two free throws. Sweeney hit a 3-pointer for the Yellow Jackets to cut the lead to two. Thome responded with a layup to increase Michigan’s lead, 83-79. Nicole Munger gave Michigan an 85-79 lead with 1:03 left on a layup and added two free throws with 34.3 left. Thompson gave Michigan a 10-point lead on two free throws with 19.5 seconds left.
Siera Thompson on wanting to be on the floor despite being tired during the triple overtime victory. Angelique Chengelis
“I knew what was on the line and I was happy I was the one up there shooting free throws,” Thompson said.
This was Michigan’s eighth-straight postseason appearance, the longest streak in school record. After reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament in her first season (2012-13) the Wolverines have been to the WNIT four straight seasons, including semifinal appearances the last two.
“We had a refuse-to-lose mentality,” said Barnes Arico, who was heading off on spring break with her family right after the win. “We felt like people took stuff from us all year long. We lost the Penn State game at the end on a foul like that foul that was called today (at the end of regulation). We didn’t get selected to the NCAA Tournament.
“I think they just wanted to prove to the world that they had made a mistake and Michigan women’s basketball is a great team. So they refused to go away. It was just awesome to watch. Different people making different plays at different times, it was incredible.”
Flaherty entered the game needing eight points to pass 2,000-career points. She is the second women’s player in school history to reach that mark and seventh total including the men’s program. That wasn’t on her mind, though.
“I’m so happy we could do this for the seniors,” Flaherty said. “Coming into this tournament we told ourselves we were going to win it. When you get to that point, you know you have to go home with the win especially coming back at the end of regulation. We pushed through and got great minutes from anybody.”
Michigan, which had the luxury of playing all its WNIT games at Crisler, had to scramble to find another venue to host the championship. The Wolverines were 19-1 at home this season and their last two WNIT games drew about 1,200 fans. Calihan Hall still provided a raucous home-court feel with the large turnout.
“To play at Crisler, we always talk about protecting the Block M and to have that opportunity would have been phenomenal,” Barnes Arico said. “But to have our fans and our support and everyone come out today and us not have to travel and have this atmosphere we had, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. An opportunity to play in our home state in Michigan surrounded by the maize and blue, and just the energy we felt from them was tremendous.”