Commanding defense leads Michigan to resounding victory over Wisconsin
To say the No. 13 Wolverines (10-0 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) put Wisconsin (3-7, 0-7) through a clinic on how to play basketball is an understatement of their commanding 69-40 win.
Michigan started hot with a 20-2 run in the first quarter, led by sophomore guard Maddie Nolan’s 11 points, shooting 3-for-5 on 3-point shots. The offense ran through Nolan throughout the first half instead of its usual path through junior forward Naz Hillmon, who finished with just six points at the end of the game. Nolan finished the first half with 14 points and the game with a career-high 21 points.
Hillmon, who leads the team in points per game, was largely held in check throughout the game, but boasted a career-high seven assists. Wisconsin was able to limit Hillmon by stacking the paint with an extra defender, leaving outside players like Nolan open at the arc. And unlike in the games against Nebraska and Illinois, the Wolverines were able to hit the outside shots.
“Tonight, our team needed (Hillmon) to pass for us to be successful, and she does whatever she needs to do to help our team win,” coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She was getting double-teamed, she was getting triple-teamed, they were sending bodies all around her, and her ability to pass the basketball and find the open man out of the double and triple teams was pretty special.”
Michigan went 9-for-24 behind the arc in the game, and 6-for-14 in the first half. Quick passing by junior guard Amy Dilk and fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson created lots of opportunities that the Wolverines capitalized on.
More opportunities were created by Michigan’s offensive rebounding ability. The Wolverines would finish with 14 offensive rebounds, six of which were snatched up by Hillmon.
Michigan’s defense, however, was the star of the show. Wisconsin was held to only six points in the second quarter and eight points in the fourth quarter as the team could not compete with the Wolverines’s fast and aggressive man-to-man coverage. Michigan held Wisconsin to only six offensive rebounds while going on to grab 33 defensive rebounds. The Wolverines dominated the post, and generated 18 turnovers.
Johnson had a stand-out defensive game. She covered Wisconsin sophomore guard Sydney Hilliard, who was averaging 19.4 points this season, almost the entire game and held her to only one point. She also had a quick steal in the third quarter that turned into three points off a lay-up plus an and-one.
“(Johnson) doesn’t get a ton of credit all the time for the things that she does that don’t show up in the box score, but she guards the other team’s best player and she takes that to heart,” Barnes Arico said. “(Johnson) was guarding (Hilliard) tonight, and (Hilliard) didn’t score a point on her. She came out of the game and I just said, ‘unbelievable.’ ”
Despite a quick slowdown to start off the second half, Michigan controlled the paint and the edges of the arc, limiting the number of good shots available for opposing players. The Wolverines allowed a game-high 15 points in the third quarter, but the small surge from Wisconsin would not be enough as the Michigan defense adjusted and reasserted itself.
As a unit, the Wolverines played fluidly and cohesively. They could be heard communicating on both ends of the court, with players like Johnson and Hillmon yelling “Amy!” and trying to get open looks. On defense, players easily transitioned from individual coverage to double-teams and back to individual coverage. It was a nonstop defensive barrage that created few scoring opportunities for the Badgers.
Michigan continued to demonstrate why there isn’t a blemish on its record — the smothering combination of an elite, consistent defense and an offense that can flow through multiple players.