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2-3 zone stymies Southern, leads Michigan in victory

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 20, 2013

Fifth-year senior forward Kendra Seto and guard Danielle Williams impressed Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico with their work in practice the week before Friday’s game against Southern.

But at the first media time out, the Wolverines were tied, 8-8. So Barnes Arico made a switch.

She inserted junior guard Shannon Smith and freshman guard Siera Thompson and put them right at the top of Michigan’s 2-3 zone defense. Smith and Thompson forced some bad shots from Southern and held them to 5-for-15 from 3-point range.

Though they came off the bench, the two regular starters were just enough to disrupt the Lady Jaguars’ offense.

“Both Shannon and (Thompson) are very active, and they anticipate well,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re all over the place, and I think their athleticism creates some opportunities for us.”

The Wolverines started the season in a four-guard lineup and utilized the 2-3 zone to compensate for their size disadvantage. When Barnes Arico started senior forward Val Driscoll to give Michigan more size, she went back to man-to-man defense.

Friday, concerned about Southern’s speedy guards, Michigan relied on its zone for most of the night. Junior forward Cyesha Goree was a disruption in the paint, finishing with 16 points and 18 rebounds.

As the game went on, the zone defense collapsed on Southern’s shooters, forcing the Lady Jaguars into shooting 38 percent from the floor. Led by Goree and junior guard Nicole Elmblad, who had 11 boards, Michigan dominated the rebounding battle, 51-26.

If Goree stays out of foul trouble, as she did Friday, she provides important size on the interior. The Lady Jaguars’ guards hesitated to penetrate, instead getting trapped in double-team situations.

Southern guard Kendra Coleman knocked down a 3-pointer early in the game to tie it at eight and force Barnes Arico to sub in Smith and Thompson. That was the last tie of the game.

“We just brought more energy,” Goree said. “We started off a little flat, but once we got our shots flowing and got up and down the court, we were able to get into our rhythm.”

The zone defense didn’t come without its kinks. Michigan still allowed 10 offensive rebounds to a significantly smaller team. Goree explained that the Wolverines have to get better on the weak-side glass to prevent second-chance points.

And despite the disruption Smith and Thompson caused at the top, the Wolverines forced only eight turnovers.

“We need to be really energetic with our zone,” Elmblad said. “One thing that can hurt teams when they play zone is they’re not as energetic. As long as we keep our feet moving and stay active in the zone, we can really keep improving on that.”

The zone is still a work in progress, as Michigan gave up 16 points each to Coleman and Southern forward Jasmine Jefferson. Goree said communication was important in covering the opponent’s scorers.

“Our zone has got to become more active, and we’ve got to just know (which) personnel (are) in the zone,” Barnes Arico said. “We did a pretty good job of packing it in, but we lost their best scorer (Coleman) at times, and she was able to knock down some shots.”

As the Wolverines head into Big Ten season, Barnes Arico said decisions between man-to-man and zone defense will come on a game-by-game basis. Michigan can play both, but choosing one will depend on the starting lineup and the opponent’s strengths.

And as Michigan showed Friday, Barnes Arico has that option in her pocket if she needs it.