Thome, Flaherty help Michigan beat Northern Colorado 75-61

The Associated Press

WACO, Texas (AP) -- Hallie Thome has confidence that she can handle anybody in a one-on-one situation.

Put her against a team that can't match her size, and that grows exponentially.

Thome scored 24 points, Katelynn Flaherty added 20 and seventh-seeded Michigan defeated No. 10 Northern Colorado 75-61 on Friday in the first round of the women's NCAA Tournament.

''Just having that (confidence) in the back of my mind and then coming into this NCAA tournament, even if I have an advantage, you know they're going to give everything so you have to be prepared for everything,'' Thome said. ''Coach (Kim Barnes) Arico does an outstanding job of making sure we're prepared and being able to take advantage of our height inside and shooters like Katelynn.''

The Wolverines shot 57 percent from the floor and took advantage of their size at nearly every position to dominate on the boards, 33-18. They were also more aggressive going to the basket, and that manifested itself in a 23-15 edge from the free throw line. Northern Colorado had 10 of its free throw attempts in the fourth quarter.

Michigan (23-9) pulled away with a 20-4 run that turned a 7-6 deficit into a 26-11 lead that eventually stretched as far as 32-14. Thome scored 10 straight points for the Wolverines during that stretch and finished with six.

''I thought it was a great basketball game for us,'' Arico said. ''Northern Colorado is really a well-disciplined team and shoots the 3 and runs their offense really well. We knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us, but I thought we came out and did a tremendous job on the defensive end, especially in the first half.''

Savannah Scott led Northern Colorado with 25 points and four steals. Big Sky Player of the Year Savannah Smith had 16 for the Bears, who won 13 straight games before Friday to earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

''In the first half, we played a badly executed game plan or maybe just game based on the fact we couldn't take advantage of mismatches or the way they guarded our on-balls (screens),'' Northern Colorado coach Kamie Ethridge said. ''We didn't handle that very well. That put us behind the eight-ball a little bit.''

BIG PICTURE

Northern Colorado: Nothing came easily for the Bears in the first half. They struggled to find any path to the basket, shot 33 percent and turned the ball over 15 times. While the Northern Colorado offense flowed more naturally in the second half, it couldn't string enough stops together to ever substantially cut into Michigan's lead.

Michigan: The Wolverines played in the WNIT the past three seasons, and they made their first NCAA Tournament game since the 2012-13 season a memorable one. Pretty much everything they put up seemed to go in, and they kept the Bears to one shot at a time on the offensive end. The Bears had four offensive rebounds and no second-chance points.

KEY PLAYER

Even though she didn't have huge numbers, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico emphasized Jillian Dunston's effort, particularly on the defensive end.

''Jillian Dunston led the way,'' Arico said. ''I thought she did a tremendous job on Savannah Smith in the first half. That's key to their team. Savannah Scott got going a little bit in the second half, but we really locked up Savannah Smith in the first half. Jillian did a tremendous job on her.''

Dunston had a solid all-around game with six points, a team-high nine rebounds and four assists.

GET AFTER IT

About three minutes into the game, Flaherty got a little reminder from her coach to be aggressive.

That's not something the coach often has to tell her leading scorer, but this was uncharted territory in the NCAA Tournament.

''She's definitely had to say that a few times,'' Flaherty said. ''That's something that, especially coming from your head coach, once she says that I'm like, 'It's OK to mess up, as long as I'm aggressive. She believes in me and has always believed in me the past four years. I know that, it is a good reminder sometimes.''

UP NEXT

Michigan will meet No. 2 Baylor in the second round Sunday.

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