Michigan hits the road with Saturday trip to Nebraska
Besides the victory itself, perhaps the only positive to come out of the Michigan women's basketball team's win over Indiana on Wednesday night was its rebounding. No matter how poor the Wolverines’ defense got during their 84-79 win, Michigan was buoyed by a 38-18 margin on the glass, pulling down as many offensive rebounds as the Hoosiers did defensive rebounds.
The No. 23 Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 14-4 overall) should win on the offensive boards again Saturday, as they head to Lincoln to face Nebraska (3-1, 12-5). Despite strong numbers on the offensive glass, the Cornhuskers have just a 68.1 percent defensive rebounding rate, ranking 165th in the country, per HerHoopStats.
That could be a recipe for disaster against Michigan — a team that loves to crash the offensive glass, reaching the double-digit mark in each of its last eight games.
“We were exploding to the ball really well,” said junior shooting guard Nicole Munger after Wednesday’s game. “For the majority of the time, the people that were in the triangle did a great job of chasing after boards.”
Michigan should also have an easy enough time scoring against the Cornhuskers. Nebraska gives up a middling 64.8 points per game on defense and could struggle to contain senior guard Katelynn Flaherty.
Though Flaherty has struggled from beyond the arc of late, she has managed to put up over 20 points in eight straight. Already the leading scorer for the Michigan women’s program, Flaherty is just 11 points away from passing Glen Rice to become the school’s all-time leader. Having hit that mark in all but one game this season, doing so shouldn’t require heavy lifting on Saturday.
However, teams have started to chip away at Flaherty’s efficiency of late by face-guarding her. There isn’t much reason to believe the Cornhuskers won’t become the latest to do so, but at the same time, Flaherty is starting to find better looks when teams pull that hat out of their bags.
“In the past, last year, if she had games where she had five points at half, or four points at half, you would completely see her pressing and taking bad shots,” said coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I don’t really think she takes very many bad shots anymore, and I think she sees the floor and has become a better and better passer.”
The next step will be regaining her stroke from beyond the arc. Since hitting 10 three-pointers against Penn State, Flaherty is seven of her last 33 from outside. If that turns around, the Wolverines should win easily.
Defense will be the question for Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines have coughed up over 70 points in three of their last four — as many times as they did over the season’s first 14 games.
Nebraska’s offense has carried the team in its last three games, all road victories. Its scoring is distributed fairly evenly, with four players averaging double-digits. However, Hannah Whitish and Taylor Kissinger, both guards, could be issues for Michigan. The two are shooting 38.9 and 38.7 percent from three, respectively.
Save for an abysmal 61.3 free throw percentage, the Cornhuskers are a potent offense. Their 49.2 effective field goal percentage is in the 80th percentile nationally, their 71.1 points per game in the 74th.
The Wolverines will be on a relatively short turnaround, playing their third game in a week. With a trip to Columbus looming on Tuesday, however, a loss would be a tough pill for Michigan to swallow. The Wolverines dropped a home game to No. 10 Ohio State on Sunday and a win will be tough to come by when they face the Buckeyes again. A Saturday loss could be the precursor to losing three of four early in Big Ten play, an alarming prospect for a team trying to cement itself in the NCAA Tournament field.