The Michigan women’s basketball team is on the road again. After closing out a five-game home stand on Saturday with a 59-53 win over Florida, the Wolverines are set to face off against Illinois State (4-2) in Normal, Ill. on Wednesday.
In its last two games, Michigan (6-2) has faced its two toughest opponents of the young season. The Wolverines lost, 71-54, to No. 4 Duke last weekend. The first half of the game against the Blue Devils was close, with Michigan cutting Duke’s lead to three at halftime, but the Wolverines were unable to rally in the second half.
After a two-day break, Michigan trumped the Gators on Saturday, ending its home stand with its fourth victories in five games.
During that stretch the Wolverines started senior forward Nya Jordan in place of sophomore guard Brenae Harris. Jordan has given Michigan a much-needed rebounding presence
“I definitely think rebounding is an issue for us,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(Florida) really hurt us on the offensive boards and that’s probably where they scored most of their points, especially in the second half. We need to have bigger, stronger kids out there, and Nya gives us that presence.”
Plagued by ACL injuries, the Wolverines are very thin at forward and have constantly looked to guards to help on the boards. Another issue this season has been turnovers, an area that Michigan improved upon against Florida.
“We had some silly turnovers, but for the most part I think we handled the ball pretty well, especially late in the second half,” Barnes Arico said. “Late in the game we did a nice job taking care of the ball. If we limit our turnovers we limit their transition — the strength of their team.”
With improved rebounding and fewer turnovers, the Wolverines are ready to hit the road. They will travel to face Illinois State Wednesday.
The Red Birds features senior guard Jamie Russell — who averages 17.3 points per game, 7.2 rebounds per game and three steals per game — sophomore forward Janae Smith who averages 17 points per game on 54-percent shooting and adds a team-high eight rebounds per game.
As if Russell and Smith weren’t lethal enough, Illinois State also adds senior guard Candace Sykes, who has emerged off the bench to average a team-high 17.8 points per game with 5.8 rebounds per game.
With a potent Red Birds offense, the Wolverines will need to continue to rely on their strong trio of seniors, guard Jenny Ryan, center Rachel Sheffer and forward Kate Thompson. In addition, the strong guard play from Illinois State will pressure Michigan to continue forcing turnovers, something the Red Birds are successful at — they force 12.9 per game.
In addition, the Wolverines will look to their experience and improved defensive presence to match the offensive firepower of the Red Birds.
“Our kids know you go on the road and sometimes you have to play in front of a hostile crowd,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ve been down this road before and (we) know we’ve got to keep (our) focus. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing, it’s about Michigan basketball.”