A flipped script on turnovers saves Michigan

Thursday, December 5, 2019 - 11:51pm

Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon helped stifle Syracuse with the press.

Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon helped stifle Syracuse with the press. Buy this photo
Olivia Cell/Daily

Down by 10 with eight minutes left, Syracuse had all the momentum. Two straight 3-pointers appeared to put daggers in Michigan’s hopes as the game slipped out of reach.

Then a shooting foul gave freshman guard Michelle Sidor a chance at the line. She sank both of them. A scramble for the ball 30 seconds later in the backcourt gave sophomore forward Naz Hillmon an easy layup to bring the game within seven.

“When we got down 10, we knew we were gonna have to turn it up,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico after a game her team came back to win, 84-76, over Syracuse in overtime. “I think you just saw the spark in Hillmon, and Hillmon coming alive in the front of the press. Nobody wants to face that. Her (6-foot-7) wingspan, and that’s really what she has, was really tough for their point guard.”

Never mind that, the Orange would do what they did every time the Wolverines attempted to claw themselves back into the game — hit threes.

Instead a trap from sophomore guard Amy Dilk on the far side of the court gave Michigan the ball back. Senior forward Kayla Robbins, playing with four fouls, forced a turnover and put up a layup. It was a five-point game.

Syracuse made it halfway up the court before senior guard Akienreh Johnson forced a turnover, found Robbins streaking down the court for an easy layup — the deficit now three.

The Orange scored again. They turned the ball over again, the Wolverines scored again.

For once, Michigan wasn’t the team giving up possessions. There was no room for Syracuse to breathe as the Wolverines executed a nasty press. The Orange committed seven turnovers in the fourth quarter and five in overtime. They gave up 31 points off turnovers — 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“It’s all with the top line,” Robbins said. “When you have (Hillmon’s) length up top, with her length in the press when we’re down, she’s done it plenty of times before — no one can stop it. No one can get through our first-line defense when we’re down.”

Added Hillmon: “But it doesn’t work without the second line being there with the traps, so that’s another thing of everybody working together, knowing what spots they’re supposed to be in and even when it did break down a couple times we didn’t put our head down, we got right back into it and still tried to get those stops.”

For a minute, the game looked to sit back into the normal rhythm. Like it did in the third quarter when the Wolverines forced an abundance of turnovers to bring the game within three, only to lose it just as soon as it began.

There were two minutes where Michigan dominated the glass, gained rebounds, forced turnovers, only to miss its shot. But Syracuse was impotent and turned the ball over again. The Wolverines worked their way into a one-point lead off a Robbins layup with just a minute left.

Michigan calmed down, and when it was unable to trap the Orange in the backcourt, it swarmed the arc — Hillmon and junior forward Hailey Brown a brick wall in the paint.

To start overtime, Syracuse committed a turnover. And then another. The Wolverines were up by four in a flash while the Orange were drowning.

Up by 10 with a minute left in overtime, the momentum was all with Michigan. Two free throws put a dagger in the heart of Syracuse.