ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With just over a minute remaining in the second half and the shot clock in single digits, Katelynn Flaherty sized up her defender. It was none other than Kelsey Mitchell, Ohio State’s preseason All-American and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.
RANKINGS: Complete AP Top 25
Flaherty started a drive to her left, and when Mitchell stayed in front of her, she turned around and went back to the 3-point line. Then she faced the basket, and in an instant, the ball was airborne. Mitchell said later she’d gotten a piece of the ball when Flaherty released it. The shot went in anyway.
“I was like, ‘If she hits that, that’s a good shooter right there,'” Mitchell said. “I salute her.”
Michigan didn’t win that game against Ohio State, but thanks to Flaherty, the Wolverines have become competitive with some of the top teams in the Big Ten. No player at Michigan — male or female — has ever scored more points than the 5-7 senior, and Flaherty’s outside shooting has helped the Wolverines stay in the Top 25 for 11 straight weeks, a team record.
Michigan’s women are No. 19 in this week’s AP poll, their highest ranking since 2001.
Flaherty grew up in New Jersey as part of a basketball family. Her father Tom played at Seton Hall and her mother Lynn played at The College of New Jersey. Her father has also been a high school and AAU coach, and she credits him with helping her become the player she is now.
“I’m from Jersey, she’s from Jersey, so I’ve known about her since she was a little girl — probably eight years old,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She is kind of, so to speak, a playground legend because of her ability to score the basketball. And that was in the state of New Jersey. Now I think it’s national.”
Flaherty started only eight games as a freshman at Michigan, but she still led the team in scoring. She’s averaged over 20 points a game each season since.
“Sophomore year, junior year, I came more out of my shell,” Flaherty said.
The Wolverines haven’t made the NCAA tournament during her career, but there’s still time to change that — and last season, Michigan won the WNIT. The Wolverines beat Georgia Tech in triple overtime in the title game, with Flaherty scoring 27 points in 51 minutes.
— Michigan Women’s Basketball (@umichwbball) January 15, 2018
Michigan lost Siera Thompson off that team, meaning Flaherty now has added responsibilities as a distributor. Make no mistake, though: Her scoring is still what stands out. She made 10 3-pointers against Penn State last month, and last weekend at Nebraska, she had 26 to bring her career total to 2,457. Glen Rice, who led the Michigan men’s team to the national title in 1989, had 2,442.
Flaherty says she enjoys watching Stephen Curry and can learn a lot from the way he’s able to get shots off despite his small size. Flaherty has a few tricks of her own. She can create space for herself with a little hop backward on the perimeter, and as she showed on that 3-pointer over Mitchell, her release is plenty quick. She can also score off the dribble if she needs to drive past an aggressive defender toward the basket.
“Once people know you’re a shooter, it’s easy to stop, and I think you have to have a lot of other different parts of your game. I think ball handling’s a big thing — being able to create your own shot,” Flaherty said. “Coming off screens, that’s something this year I especially had to work on.”
Her mental approach is important too. Indiana guarded her well last week, holding her to one 3-pointer. Flaherty had only four points at halftime — but still finished with 23 and six assists.
“In the past, last year, if she had games where she’s had five points at half or four points at half, you would completely see her pressing and taking bad shots,” Arico said. “I don’t really think she takes very many bad shots anymore, and I think she sees the floor and has become a better and better passer.”
Flaherty’s matchup with Mitchell on Jan. 7 in Ann Arbor turned out to be a terrific game. Mitchell is Division I’s active leader in career points, with Flaherty at No. 2. Flaherty’s 3-pointer over Mitchell put Michigan up by two, but the game went into overtime, and Ohio State prevailed, thanks to Mitchell’s 37 points.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes (16-2, 5-0 Big Ten) host the 19th-ranked Wolverines (15-4, 4-2) in a rematch Tuesday night. A win would give Michigan a marquee victory and move Flaherty one step closer to capping her career with an NCAA Tournament appearance.
— Michigan Women’s Basketball (@umichwbball) January 14, 2018
“I’m just happy that my hard work has paid off. I never thought I would do this. I never thought my hard work would result in this,” she said. “It’s been a lot of years even before getting here of just working hard and staying true to yourself, and I think that’s something I’ve learned in college is, you have to be the same person you were before you got here.”