Through every wild twist and turn at Williams Arena on Saturday, Amanda Zahui B. kept the faith.
“We are a team that fights through anything,” the Gophers center said. “We won’t let each other down.”
Michigan made them prove it, as the Gophers staved off two Wolverines rallies to grind out a 91-88 victory in their regular-season home finale. In a game that was alternately sloppy and stirring, the Gophers overcame a season-high 24 turnovers and a sluggish start, thanks to another star turn by Zahui and a Senior Day show by Shae Kelley. Zahui soared to her 20th double-double of the season with 27 points and 27 rebounds. Kelley added 23 points and 10 boards.
The Gophers reached the 22-victory mark for only the third time in program history as they won their fifth consecutive game. Michigan sprinted back from an 11-point deficit in the second half to tie the score 69-69 on a Nicole Elmblad jumper at the buzzer, then erased a four-point Gophers lead in overtime with two baskets in the final 35 seconds, tying the score at 80.
Zahui, who played all 50 minutes, scored six points in the second overtime, boosting the Gophers to a lead that lasted. She and Kelley, who played 48 minutes, were too elated afterward to be tired.
“Two-overtime games are always tough,” Kelley said. “Both teams are getting tired, fighting and scrapping. It just shows our toughness. We’re able to win any game. We don’t ever give up.”
Once the Gophers got the outcome they wanted, Kelley could appreciate the value of being pushed to their limits as they approach the Big Ten tournament. Michigan’s aggressive defense slowed the Gophers early as the Wolverines used a 12-0 run to seize the lead midway through the first half.
Zahui scored only three points in the first 11 minutes as the Gophers went nearly six minutes without a basket. While Kelley and Zahui made 10 of 18 shots in the first half, the rest of the team hit only four of 17 attempts, and Michigan scored 16 points off of turnovers as it took a 39-33 halftime lead.
The Gophers tightened up in the second half, making nine of their first 13 shots to cruise to a 55-47 advantage. They led by 11 with 8:10 to go, but the persistent Wolverines again ratcheted up the pressure. Over the next 6½ minutes, the Gophers committed five turnovers and missed all seven shots they tried as Michigan stormed ahead 64-63 with 1:41 remaining.
Carlie Wagner’s three-pointer put the Gophers up 69-67 with 19 seconds left before Elmblad tied it. The Gophers led 80-76 with 53 seconds to go in the first overtime, but Elmblad’s layup with 22 seconds left forced the second OT.
“We’re fighters, and we’re resilient, and we’re tough,” Gophers coach Marlene Stollings said. “The longer the game went on, the tougher I felt we got. I just thought we had to hang in there and keep battling, and we did.”
Zahui led them in the second overtime with six points, five rebounds and a block. When it was over, she cut loose with her trademark roar — matching that of a Senior Day crowd announced at 6,053 — to celebrate a victory Stollings viewed as important in many ways.
“From a program perspective, [the 22 victories] are enormous,” she said. “I’m really proud of our kids for achieving that. This game emulated who we are and what we are.”