Kornacki: Munger, Gondrezick Supply Heart, Hustle in Victory

Feb. 5, 2017

By Steve Kornacki

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There were so many reasons why the University of Michigan women's basketball team should have lost this game, and we'll get to those later.

However, there were two big reasons why the Wolverines overcame a 15-point deficit in the second quarter to beat Iowa, 72-70, on Sunday (Feb. 5).

And those were heart and hustle.

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Those traits were best exemplified by Nicole Munger, who came off the bench and played as if the national championship was on the line, and freshman Kysre Gondrezick, who stepped up with season highs of 23 points and six steals.

"I've always hustled because I was like 5-foot as a freshman in high school, and I always had to work harder than anyone else," said Munger, a 5-foot-11 sophomore from Doylestown, Pennsylvania. "And hopefully that attitude from those days sticks with me because it's something special.

"Being smaller teaches you how to fight for things."

Munger's boxscore numbers don't jump out: seven points, two rebounds and one assist. But her impact was huge -- particularly with the game on the line.

She reached around Hawkeyes guard Makenzie Meyer as she dribbled toward midcourt, knocking the ball loose with her left hand for Gondrezick to grab while facing the Michigan basket. Gondrezick spotted Katelynn Flaherty breaking to the basket and hit her for an uncontested layup and a 69-68 lead with 47 seconds remaining.

The game had changed in an instant.

However, Iowa, which also showed plenty of fight, came back to take a one-point lead on a bucket with 35 seconds left.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said Munger was the fourth option at best on a play set up for the Wolverines' next possession. She got the ball in the right corner, read the defense perfectly and dribbled past her defender along the baseline for the go-ahead layup with 20 seconds remaining.

"Nicole was actually a screener in that play," said Barnes Arico. "But she had the best matchup there. We knew Nicole was going to have a mismatch, and Nicole did a tremendous job of recognizing that and beating her (opponent) off the bounce and making a basketball play at the end of the game.

"Munger was unbelievable. She was all over the place. She got a rebound, got fouled, she made the basket, and she had great recognition. She's getting tips playing the front of the zone. She's such a great kid, and for her to have a great (game) and help us to victory was really special."

Munger was fouled going for the rebound on a missed Iowa shot with 6.8 seconds left but missed both free throws.

"Usually I'm a good free throw shooter," said Munger, who was 18-of-19 (.947) from the line this season. "I don't know if I was chicken or nervous, but I was a little sweaty."

Siera Thompson saved the day by grabbing the long rebound on Munger's second miss and immediately was fouled. The 89-percent free throw shooter made one of two free throws for what ended up being the final point in the game.

Megan Gustafson, who scored 23 down low for Iowa, couldn't get a game-tying shot to drop, and the horn sounded.

"Our kids made the plays down the stretch, and that was the difference," said Barnes Arico. "Things had to happen for us to come away with the win. I'm really proud we had the ability to do that down the stretch."

Michigan (19-5, 8-2 Big Ten) survived, running its record at Crisler Center to 12-0 in what has become a special season.

Gondrezick scored 10 of her team's 15 points in the final seven minutes.

"I knew that I had momentum with every play that I continued to make," said Gondrezick, last year's Michigan Miss Basketball at Benton Harbor High. "I was still looking for my teammates, and they were (double-)teaming on Hallie (Thome) and came in on Kate.

"So, someone else had to step up, and with the confidence I had, I just trusted myself and luckily so did my teammates as well as my coach. I was able to be humble and come in and make my impact tonight."

Gondrezick leads all Big Ten freshmen in scoring (14.3 points per game) and is second among all conference players in three-point accuracy (27 of 54, 50 percent).

"She did a tremendous job for us tonight," said Barnes Arico. "She played with the same fire whether we were down 13 or the game was tied or we were down one. She wanted the ball in her hands, and that was pretty special for a freshman."

The coach let Gondrezick take over the point guard role for a bit, and she responded with a team-high four assists.

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And so the Wolverines, who last year overcame a 17-point deficit at home against Iowa, did it again.

They won despite so much going so wrong:

Flaherty had an off night, scoring only about half of her usual points with 11.

Thome, the 6-foot-5 inside presence, sat out all but 10 seconds of the second quarter after getting into foul trouble.

Michigan, which led the Big Ten with .413 shooting on three-pointers, made only five of 19 to shoot .263.

But heart and hustle prevailed.

"We did a good job of just playing through those things and being able to grind it out," said Munger. "We don't know if we win that game last year. That was our growth this year."

Thome ended up with 16 points and six rebounds but was confident in her teammates picking up the slack with her out.

"On this year's team," said Thome, "we trust everyone to make a play at the end. Munger, who hadn't played a lot of minutes, was able to come in and do what she can do."

Gondrezick added, "Nicole is one of those instrumental pieces every team needs. Her coming in off the bench with that spark was a big factor for us. She converted when we couldn't, and hit the game winner."

Rugged forward Jillian Dunston, who had 10 rebounds, exhorted the lively crowd of 3,327 when it was over to cheer louder, and they did.

"By any means possible we are going to find a way to win," said Gondrezick, "and continue to make our impact in the Big Ten."

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