Junior forward Cyesha Goree, a first-year starter, had never seen a team quite like Notre Dame, the Michigan women’s basketball team’s opponent Dec. 14.
Against Southern University (3-4) of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, she fit right in to an 83-59 win.
Goree took control with 16 points and 18 rebounds, and the Wolverines followed her lead, racing past Southern on Friday at Crisler Center.
Michigan (8-4) went inside often to its 6-foot-3 forward, who matched up with Southern’s tallest starter, 6-foot-1 Jasmine Jefferson. Goree also played in the paint of Michigan’s 2-3 zone defense, which forced the Lady Jaguars into 37-percent shooting from the floor in the first half.
Goree’s first-half double-double — 14 points, 13 rebounds — helped the Wolverines to a 25-11 edge on the glass before the break. She also stayed out of foul trouble and played 33 minutes.
“It’s important for us to keep her out on the court early,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She’s picked up a couple fouls at different points during the year which made her come out of the game. When she’s in the game, she really gives us an inside presence.”
Michigan added 13 second-chance points and 26 points in the paint in the first half.
Once the Wolverines established Goree in the post, they started to generate a perimeter game. Goree grabbed offensive rebounds and the Lady Jaguars swarmed her, leaving players open on the outside. Freshman guard Siera Thompson led the three-point attack by shooting four-for-four from long range in the first half.
“As soon as they started realizing she was getting all of our points, they started doubling her, and we had open shooters on the outside,” junior guard Nicole Elmblad said. “That really helps get things open for everybody when she’s playing so well.”
Led by Goree’s seven-for-nine, Michigan shot 52 percent for the game. Junior guard Shannon Smith finished with 13 points and eight assists. Elmblad also tallied a double-double, totaling 17 points and 11 rebounds.
Barnes Arico shook up the lineup early on, starting fifth-year senior forward Kendra Seto and freshman guard Danielle Williams in place of Thompson and Smith. She put in Thompson and Smith at the first media timeout, and Thompson promptly knocked down a 3-pointer to give Michigan the lead for good.
“Especially on our screen-and-rolls when they switch, I switch on a guard, so they try to switch back, which left our other guards open for shots,” Goree said. “They were able to knock them down.”
Thompson’s second 3-pointer with 10 minutes left in the half forced a Southern timeout and gave the Wolverines a 24-11 lead.
Michigan started off the game defending with a 2-3 zone, and Southern guard Kendra Coleman hit a 3-pointer early on. The Lady Jaguars ended up shooting only 38 percent, but the Wolverines gave up seven offensive rebounds and forced only three turnovers.
On the offensive glass, Michigan outrebounded undersized Southern, 51-26.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, letting Southern claw back from a game-high 24-point deficit to 47-31 at the break.
“A lot of those turnovers are unforced, and we spent a lot of time working on them this week and also watching film and seeing when we’re turning the basketball over,” Barnes Arico said.
Added Elmblad: “We like to push the ball and run fast, but we also have to make sure we’re taking care of it and not giving them extra possessions by turning the ball over. That will be an emphasis in practice and as we move forward. It’s just something we’re going to have to keep working at.”
Thompson hit a pair of free throws that gave the Wolverines their largest lead of the game at 45-21 before the Lady Jaguars closed the half on a 10-2 run.
In the second half, the lead shrunk to 13 on two occasions but never into single digits. Michigan’s largest lead was 28 with 5:15 to go, and it cruised through the final minutes.