Michigan center Jennifer Smith followed her lowest scoring game of the season with one of the highest scoring games of her career and the Wolverines tallied eight unanswered points in the final two-and-a-half minutes to claim a 63-60 win at Wisconsin.
Smith scored 20 of her game-high 32 points in the second half Thursday, including six of Michigan's final eight.
"The second half I just kept telling Jen, really sit down and post up," Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. "We did enough to win at the end."
Trailing 60-59 with 39.4 seconds left, Michigan (10-9 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) turned to forward Tabitha Pool, who had hit just 3 of 18 shots to that point.
With Wisconsin (7-9, 1-5) keying on Smith defensively, Pool had a number of open looks down the stretch. She missed two 3-point shots, but hit a 13-foot jumper to give Michigan the lead with 31 seconds left.
"I just had an open look and I was confident in taking that shot and just knocked it down," Pool said.
"We had originally set up a different play and they were switching everything defensively," Rich said. "Wide open look. Just one of those days I guess."
It was an inappropriate end for Rich, who hit 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, including one with less than four minutes to play that gave the Badgers a 56-53 lead. She also scored Wisconsin's only four points in a miserable seven-minute first-half stretch that saw Michigan take a 35-27 lead after trailing 23-15.
"It was so wide open," Rich said of the layup. "They were stuck on me and Ashley. Somehow I just got open. I was expecting contact, I guess that's why I threw it over the backboard. It was right there. If I had more of a jump in my legs, I just would have thrown it down."
Wisconsin struggled offensively down the stretch, going without a field goal in the final three minutes of the game.
"The last four possessions our team played a very intelligent defensive game," Burnett said. "I think that made it a little bit difficult for Wisconsin to score."
Smith's 32 tied the second-highest total of her career one game after scoring just seven in Michigan's 67-33 loss to Michigan State Jan. 18. She hit 10 of 14 shots against the Badgers and 12 of 12 free throws.
Smith was tenuously contained in the game's first 11 minutes, but with UW center Emily Ashbaugh already on the bench with two fouls, Smith drew the second on center Lello Gebisa at the 8:31 mark of the first half. She went to work from there, hitting two free throws to kick off a 13-0 run for the Wolverines.
Smith scored the first seven points of the spurt, taking advantage of a smaller Badger lineup. With the absence of the 6-foot-7 Gebisa and 6-5 Ashbaugh, Wisconsin was forced to rotate sophomore forwards Kjersten Bakke (5-11) and Jordan Wilson (6-1) against the 6-4 Smith.
The Badgers fell behind 37-30 early in the second-half but fought back behind a 13-0 run of their own. Smith, though, ended Michigan's seven-minute 27-second scoring drought and proceeded to score 12 more points in the next seven minutes, thoroughly dominating the paint.
Smith drew Ashbaugh's fourth foul at the 8:27 mark and knocked down two free throws to bring Michigan to within 46-45. Ashbaugh remained on the bench until Gebisa fouled out with 5:17 remaining.
"Strong, physical…(Smith) made things work inside," Wisconsin coach Lisa Stone said. "If you don't hold your ground and draw a charge you are going to foul her…She is averaging 22 points for a reason."
Wisconsin certainly had its share of opportunities. With a 43-39 lead midway through the second half, the team missed four consecutive free throws on its way to 18 of 26 shooting from the foul line.
"Steph Rich's missed basket is not why we lost the game," Stone said. "Eight missed free throws is why we lost the game. Not taking the opportunity to capitalize on some situations we could have."
After Smith tied the game, 53-53, Rich drilled her triple at the 3:58 mark. After Michigan guard Stephanie Gandy narrowed the lead to one with two free throws, Josephson drove through the lane and converted a layup to make it 58-55 at 3:09. That shot proved to be the last field goal for Wisconsin, with Ashbaugh's two free throws at 2:29 capping the team's scoring.
Just more than a minute before Rich's missed layup, Wilson missed one of her own, holding Wisconsin to a 60-57 advantage. She then proceeded to foul Smith, who hit both of her free throws to bring the Wolverines within one.
Michigan, however, pulled the game out in spite of itself, going four straight possessions without attempting a pass to Smith in the post. Pool missed two 3s and Gandy also missed a triple during the stretch, before the Wolverines got Smith back in the action.
With a minute-and-a-half remaining, Smith hit a jumper from just inside the three-point line, then converted the aforementioned free throws, setting up Pool's game-winner.
"It was a great basketball game that didn't go our way," Stone said. "What we can do now is think and dwell or we can get back to work and get ready for Northwestern."
Score by half
Michigan - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Jennifer Smith (10-12-32), Tabitha Pool (4-2-11), Stephanie Gandy (4-2-11), Kelly Helvey (3-0-7), Sierra Hauser-Price (1-0-2). Totals: 22-16-63.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free throws-Points) - Ashley Josephson (5-4-17), Stephanie Rich (5-3-16), Emily Ashbaugh (6-4-16), Jordan Wilson (1-4-6), Kandace Evans (0-3-3), Kjersten Bakke (1-0-2). Totals: 18-18-60.
Three point goals - Michigan 3 (Pool, Helvey, Gandy), Wisconsin 6 (Rich 3, Josephson 3).
Rebounds - Michigan 36 (Pool 8), Wisconsin 30 (Rich 6).
Assists - Michigan 18 (Pool 6), Wisconsin 12 (Rich 3) Turnovers - Michigan 15 (Gandy 4), Wisconsin 16 (Bakke, Ebba Gebisa 4).
Blocks - Michigan 2 (Pool, Smith), Wisconsin 3 (Ashbaugh 2) Steals - Michigan 12 (Pool 5), Wisconsin 7 (Rich 4) Fouls - Michigan 16, Wisconsin 15. Fouled out - Lello Gebisa (UW)
Points - in the paint: Michigan 34, Wisconsin 24 - Off turnovers: Michigan 18, Wisconsin 12 - Fast break: Michigan 8, Wisconsin 0 - Bench: Michigan 0, Wisconsin 11 - Second chance: Michigan 4, Wisconsin 9. Ties - 3. Lead changes - 9.