Defensive play in the post key to Michigan’s victory
To say it was a revenge game is an understatement.
No. 11 Michigan started off the season with a perfect 10-0 record only to have its first loss handed to it by its biggest rival — No. 15 Ohio State — in January.
In the anticipated top-15 rematch, the Wolverine defense stepped up to the challenge and helped lead the team to a 75-66 win.
While Michigan’s offense sputtered, the defense shined. The Wolverines had a dismal 33.3% field goal percentage in the first half, but kept the Buckeyes to a mark equally as bad.
The Wolverines were dominant in the post, shutting down the Ohio State attack and preventing their opponents from generating any momentum. The phenomenal play was led by graduate senior forward Hailey Brown and junior forward Emily Kiser.
Kiser only played for 15 minutes, scoring four points, but was dominant in her defensive effort on the block, locking up key Buckeyes such as forward Dorka Juhász, a contender for National Player of the Year. Juhász is averaging 15.9 points and 11.2 rebounds per game but was held to a single point thanks to the efforts of Brown, and Kiser and even graduate student guard Akienreh Johnson.
“Kiser was fabulous,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said “She came in and gave us great minutes.”
A manifestation of the defense’s strong first half came in a defensive play by Johnson. The 6-foot guard posted up as Ohio State guard Jacy Sheldon tried to drive in towards the basket. Johnson planted her feet, establishing herself as the defender, and Sheldon ran directly into her before being knocked on the floor. Johnson towered over the Buckeye with her hands up as Sheldon looked for a foul on the floor, but no whistle was blown. As the Buckeye player dragged herself up, junior wing Leigha Brown was already shooting a midrange jumper on the other end of the court.
The defense was especially stout in the third quarter when the team held Ohio State to only 11 points, allowing the offense to reignite itself.
“Basketball is a game of runs,” Brown said about the third quarter. “And our teammates and our coaches, they all give us confidence, so it can be an easy turn from air balls and making a big shot.”
The defensive efforts of the Wolverines have been an underrated aspect of their game all season and have saved the team in moments when the offense struggles. The efforts of Johnson and Brown, and recently Kiser, have forced opponents to average only 61 points per game, an impressive number.
The experience brought by Johnson and Brown have lifted the team in times when the offense has failed and continues to do so.
“I think our team defense really played a lot better,” Barnes Arico said. “Ohio State is an offensive team, and we were able to lock them down tonight.”
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