A couple of weeks ago, the North By Northwestern sports section posed an important question for all fans of the women’s basketball team: in crunchtime, who is the x-factor of the team? Everybody responded with varying answers: the big bad senior Abbie Wolf, the sharpshooting senior Abi Scheid, the tough play of sophomore Veronica Burton and junior Lindsey Pulliam, and even Byrdy Galernik got a shoutout for her contributions on the court.
What we forgot to consider, however, is that the ’Cats (21-3, 11-2 B1G) pride themselves on their team victories where everyone gets involved. Such was the case in the team’s 66-60 victory over Michigan (16-8, 7-6 B1G) in Ann Arbor Thursday night, which saw four different players score more than 10 points and showed just how deep the team is from the bench.
In the win, the ’Cats saw key contributions from Scheid, who went 3-for-6 from 3-point range and had 14 points overall, in addition to Burton and Wolf, who each had 13. Sydney Wood had 14 points and went a perfect 4-for-4 on the court, while also nailing six free throws. Like others on the team, however, Wood was quick to point to her teammates for her success.
“I feel like I haven’t been finishing as well as I’ve wanted to," Wood said after the game, "so my teammates have been really great about encouraging me to keep attacking, and I feel like that confidence that they gave me really helped me to attack today.”
The Wolverines were led in their efforts by senior Akienreh Johnson, who fell just short of a double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds.
The ’Cats and Wolverines played a tight game from the start, trading baskets and holding long possessions to get deep into the paint; however, neither team could pull away by much. The Wolverines did better in the second quarter, going up by five and putting the ’Cats into foul trouble early. To solve this, coach Joe McKeown subbed in Jordan Hamilton and the aforementioned Galernik, whose flashy play and lock-down defense kept the Wolverines’ lead to five at halftime.
“I thought tonight we played through adversity when we had to,” McKeown said postgame. “I thought we kind of hung in there to get to halftime down five, that could’ve been a much bigger gap. I’m just proud of our team for that. I thought at halftime, ‘Alright, we’re okay now.’”
The ’Cats then turned to Wood and Scheid in the third quarter, with the latter grabbing three steals and swishing two nets from downtown to lead the team to a six-point lead. After a brief dry-spell that saw the Wolverines make up the deficit, Veronica Burton nailed a three-pointer from the left side to put the ’Cats up 63-60 with two minutes left to play; it would end up being the difference-maker, as the team locked down on defense and would not let Michigan score for the rest of the game.
“We struggled a little in the first half," Wood said, "so we came out in the third quarter really wanting to shut them down. We did that, and that sparked a lot of our offense."
The ’Cats now sit at second in the Big Ten standing, just behind Maryland, and have their sights set on the future.
“The mindset is that we just want to come out every game and play our very best, and play to win each game," Wood said. "We know it’s not going to be easy, but we want to finish as strong as we can going into the Big Ten tournament.”
The ’Cats will host the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan arena in a matinee matchup. Hop aboard the hype train before you get stuck on the bandwagon.