Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has figured out her lineup quickly.
After six games with the same starting lineup, the Michigan women’s basketball team made changes prior to Wednesday’s contest against No. 4 Duke.
The original starting lineup of senior guards Jenny Ryan and Kate Thompson, sophomore guards Nicole Elmblad and Brenae Harris and senior center Rachel Sheffer accounted for a 5-1 record to begin the season, while struggling in various facets of the game, primarily rebounding.
Barnes Arico harped on her team’s struggle to rebound consistently, as Michigan has survived with an undersized lineup. As a result, Barnes Arico looked to add height by replacing Harris with six-foot senior forward Nya Jordan.
Barnes Arico, who called Jordan one of the most athletic players on the team during the preseason, first started the forward against Duke. Jordan ended the game with just eight points and four rebounds, but against Florida on Saturday, Jordan led the team with 11 rebounds.
“I definitely think rebounding is an issue for us,” Barnes Arico said. “We need to have bigger, stronger kids out there and Nya gives us that presence.
“If you saw our last two games, (Nya) has been a completely different person. I think she really bought into what we were trying to do and what lacked and got her confidence back. I just think she gives us something we don’t really have. A toughness and athleticism, an extra rebounder on the court.”
But the Wolverines’ woes aren’t as bad they think. Despite having been outrebounded in half of its games, Michigan has out-rebounded opponents, 237-230, so far this season.
So what has Michigan (6-2) struggled with this season?
Both of its losses, against Duke and Utah, were the result of defensive pressure that threw the Wolverines out of rhythm. Michigan, which relies on its hot shooting on the outside from Sheffer and Thompson to compensate for its lack of height, shot below its 46 percent season average in its two losses.
But the losses highlighted what happens when Michigan is unable to set up its offense and wait for its shot. Instead, the Wolverines forced quick shots, ultimately affecting the defense.
“We’re getting shots and opportunities to score instead of giving them opportunities to score,” Barnes Arico said. “I think when we go on stretches where we’re scoring, we’re not turning the ball over. When they go on stretches when they’re scoring, it’s usually off of our turnovers or quick shots.”
Barnes Arico’s new lineup does not have the quickness, though, to handle teams who force Michigan to play a more up-tempo offense. Jordan forces the Wolverines into a different offense that works the ball down low more frequently.
But in its game against Florida, Michigan showed what happens when it doesn't face full-court pressure, mounting a 12-5 run in the second half that helped seal victory.
“They didn’t pressure as much as Duke,” Sheffer said. “I think just being able to execute our half-court offense and just find the open person (helps).”
Opposing defenses have not only applied total team pressure, but have also focused in on the Wolverines’ leading scorers — Sheffer with 14.9 points per game and Thompson with 14.6 points per game. Against Duke, Michigan was forced to find an alternate source to carry the team offensively, leaning on Ryan, who scored 18 points.
But this pressure doesn’t surprise Thompson, who managed to lead Michigan in scoring on Friday with 21 points.
“Every team we play is going to be very good,” Thompson said. “Defense is going to get better and better as the year progress, but if we just run our offense and really focus on setting the screens then people will get open.”
Barnes Arico may have to ask herself what lineup can rebound and handle defensive pressure better.