Church, Munger lead Michigan to victory over in-state foe Oakland
The first two of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s 85 points came a minute into the game on a fast break layup by senior guard Nicole Munger. From then on, the Wolverines (7-3) never relinquished the lead, cruising to an 85-59 victory over Oakland (2-8).
Munger, who led all Michigan players with 21 points, fueled a dominant first quarter for the Wolverines. She scored 11 of the team’s 27 first-quarter points on 4-for-6 shooting, including a trio of 3-pointers.
However, Munger didn’t score in the second quarter. Instead, it was freshman forward Naz Hillmon who controlled the scoring, complimenting Munger’s high-scoring first quarter with a 10-point quarter of her own.
“I think Nicole’s playing with a tremendous amount of confidence,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in a post-game interview. “Being a senior, her leadership role, her confidence (and) her experience (are) shining through and tonight was another example of that. I think her teammates are doing a great job now of really finding her and getting her some open shots, and she’s just able to knock them down. She’s prepared herself her whole life to make these shots, and I’m really proud of her having these opportunities.”
While it was Munger and Hillmon who led the Wolverines in their scoring efforts, it was sophomore guard Deja Church who facilitated the offense and took charge on defense.
Church ended the game with a career-high nine assists, including seven in the first half, and was tasked with guarding the Golden Grizzlies’ leading scorer, guard Taylor Jones (15 points per game). Even though Jones did finish the game with 15 points, Barnes Arico was more focused on the fact that it took her 20 shots to get there.
“Deja Church was outstanding,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought she had a great game on both the offensive and defensive ends. … So Deja really did a great job on the defensive end and then I think that sparked her offense. She ran point for us, the wing for us.
“She distributed the ball exceptionally well, she made some free throws, she made some shots. She just all-around had a great high energy and a great game. I was really happy for her.”
Yet, despite the overall dominant performance for Michigan, in which Munger, Hillmon and Church excelled, others struggled — specifically, freshman guard Amy Dilk and senior center Hallie Thome.
Dilk, who finished with a 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and shot 2-for-12 from the field, has hit just five of her last 31 shots and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 16:13 during a frustrating last four games. Still, the freshman has shown flashes of why she was named Miss Basketball in Indiana last year after very promising performances against two formidable opponents, Texas and Washington, earlier this season.
“We have two big off-days right now, so I think it will be big for her to get back in the gym and take easy shots and be able to get a high volume of shots up,” Munger said. “That’s what I did and it seemed to help. I’ll definitely be in her ear because she’s a great listener and she just wants to get better. She’ll respond and she’ll be good.”
Thome, meanwhile, did not necessarily struggle against Oakland, but rather was unable to leave her mark on the game due to back spasms; she played just 12 minutes and scored six points.
Aside from the back spasms, though, Thome has been relatively quiet in her past few games. After taking at least nine shots in all but one of the Wolverines’ first six games, she has not reached that shot total in any of her last four.
“We work really well together,” Munger said. “We live together too, so we’re able to talk about (her struggles) whenever we need to. But Hallie will be fine. She had a really, really good workout. She knows what she needs to do, so she’s gotten back in the gym to get her touch back. She’ll be fine.”
Michigan will take on Morgan State on Saturday, Dec. 15 and play two more non-conference games before Big Ten play begins Dec. 28.