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After words from Barnes Arico, Ristovski takes charge

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 11, 2013

As tough as it is to overlook an undefeated opponent, the Michigan women’s basketball team was sorely tempted Wednesday night against Eastern Michigan.

It was clear from the tip-off that not all 5-0 teams are created equal. The fact that Eastern Michigan’s résumé boasted victories against the likes of NAIA Division II opponents Madonna and Marygrove made it understandable why the Wolverines’ attention may have been tilted slightly toward the next green-and-white-wearing, undefeated squad they’ll face at Crisler Center.

Accordingly, Michigan came out of the gate against the Eagles sloppy and turnover-prone, a potential sign that Saturday’s matchup with No. 4 Notre Dame loomed larger in the Wolverines’ minds than the game at hand, despite what was said on the contrary.

Michigan had trouble holding onto the ball in the first half — freshman guard Siera Thompson accounted for three turnovers and junior guard Shannon Smith was charged with two.

“We actually had a conversation saying that we wanted to come in and not overlook them,” said sophomore guard Madison Ristovski. “I just think we got thrown off by their pressure. After turning the ball over, you get frazzled.”

Ristovski was benched late in the first half almost immediately after entering the game for Smith, when she turned down a jump shot, looked to pass and got whistled for a travel in the process.

But that turnover may have been the best thing to happen to the Wolverines all game, as it resulted in the wake-up call that got Ristovski firing on all cylinders offensively.

“Sometimes she gets in the flow of a game and gets back to her natural instincts of being a passer,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I looked at her and said, ‘Madison, you need to score.’ ”

Ristovski responded in kind. Eighty-four seconds and a cool 11 points later, she had singlehandedly put the Wolverines up by 11. Michigan never gave back the advantage, riding it all the way to an 89-75 victory.

“She has the ability to do that every game,” Barnes Arico said. “When (Thompson) is playing the point and she’s off the ball, we need her to knock down shots.”

Ristovski ultimately finished with 23 points, eclipsing her previous career high for the third time this season. Her hot shooting often compensated for the absence of Smith, who was the Wolverines’ leading scorer as of game time but was overtaken in the second half by both Thompson and junior forward Cyesha Goree. Smith, still nursing a back injury that caused her to miss games against No. 15 LSU and Virginia, played only 17 minutes in the contest, a substantial cause for concern.

“We lost 18 points a game when Shannon went out,” Barnes Arico said. “We weren’t sure where that scoring was going to come from.”

It seems the Wolverines have their answer. It’ll come mostly from Ristovski, with a healthy dose of scoring from Thompson — along with Goree and junior forward Nicole Elmblad — mixed in. Michigan can now wholeheartedly turn its attention to Saturday night’s clash with Notre Dame, and as Smith seems unlikely to play a major role in the game, that answer might have to be more emphatic against the Fighting Irish.