By Daniel Feldman, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 15, 2012
With the alumni band playing, the Michigan women’s basketball team took a trip back in time, as it took on Western Michigan for the first time since 2004 in a matinee affair to kick off a four-game homestand. After two wins by double digits at Illinois State and Eastern Michigan, the Wolverines aimed to extend their winning streak to four games.
And that’s exactly what Michigan (9-2) did, as it dismantled the Broncos, 60-41. Led by strong shooting all around, the Wolverines shot 58 percent from the field in the first half, 54 percent in the game, to easily beat Western Michigan (3-7).
Unlike against prior opponents this season, Michigan had a clear advantage from the start in rebounding. The Wolverines boast nine players at six feet or taller compared to the Broncos, who have just two.
“We talked about (our height advantage) before the game,” said senior guard Kate Thompson.
“We knew that they were going to be a smaller team especially compared to what we’re used to, being a Big Ten team and all,” said senior forward Sam Arnold. “It’s just important to work toward your advantages, making little changes in your offense and defense to what will work for us.”
The rare height advantage paid off quickly, as Arnold scored six-straight points on shots right underneath the basket, after entering the game with 11:24 remaining. Her scoring tear fueled an 18-0 run for Michigan to make the score 25-5.
The dividends kept coming as senior guard Jenny Ryan and sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad were able to get in the paint handily late in the first half for buckets to extend the Wolverines’ lead to 18. The duo combined for 14 points and eight rebounds. Ryan also had a team-high seven assists.
“We tried to go inside early and I think Rachel had an offensive rebound on the first possession and then we missed a bunch, but then we got Sam in the game and we really took advantage of our size,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “That hasn’t happened much to us, and it won’t happen much moving forward, but it was nice tonight.”
Perhaps the conclusion of this dominance came on Michigan’s final possession of the first half, when Ryan grabbed a defensive rebound with 23 seconds left. After taking her time dribbling up the court, she found Arnold, who cut toward the paint to position herself underneath for a bucket as time expired.
With a height advantage, the Wolverines out-rebounded Western Michigan 18-11 in the first half and 33-25 in the game. In addition, Michigan’s bench once again posted a season-high in points with 21, led by Arnold, who had eight in the first half, and sophomore guard Brenae Harris, who chipped in 11 to tie her career high.
“It’s huge for them to keep producing and keep coming off the bench and doing so well,” Thompson said. “And I think the huge thing is their confidence and building their confidence to come in. They know they’re good and can score.”
While the Wolverines’ height advantage played a large factor into Michigan’s dominance from start to finish, its defensive tenacity did as well, limiting the Broncos to 23.1 percent shooting in the first half and 32.6 percent in the game.
The greatest showing of the Wolverines’ defense came in the first half as they held Western Michigan scoreless for eight minutes and 37 seconds, spanning the 15 minutes mark to the six-minute mark.
Though Michigan scored 12 points in the first half in the paint and 28 in total, the Wolverines were still able to rely on 3-pointers, thanks to a lethal Thompson who had a team-high 16 points, with 12 coming from three on 4-of-8 shooting from distance. Thompson also posted a career-high 10 rebounds for her first career double-double.
Michigan's and Thompson's success was easy to explain for Barnes Arico, but she knows the Wolverines will have to alter their style and play in transition to have success for the rest of the season.
“We got to keep moving the ball in transition and making easier baskets for (Thompson) instead having a half-court set every time,” Barnes Arico said. “I think teams are going to start breaking down her half-court stuff and trying to double her and really trying to take her stuff away. We got to be able to get her some easy (shots) in transition, and we got to stop teams (from) doubling her.”