By Max Bultman, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 28, 2013
The Michigan women’s basketball team’s (9-4) win over Alcorn State was certainly not a surprise to many. Nor was the continued emergence of freshman guard Siera Thompson and freshman forward Cyeesha Goree.
What was impressive, though, was how thoroughly Michigan dominated the Braves, adding a stalwart defensive performance to an increasingly surprising season.
The Wolverines defeated Alcorn State (1-10) in convincing fashion, holding the Braves to just nine first-half points and controlling the paint en route to a 76-31 victory Saturday.
Freshman guard Siera Thompson led Michigan with 20 points, and junior guard Nicole Elmblad added 16 in the blowout victory.
Though the team has preformed better than expected, the Wolverines’ defense had been below average so far this season — it gave up 86 points to Notre Dame just two weeks ago. Entering the game, it was allowing opponents to shoot over 40 percent from the field.
But Saturday, Michigan held Alcorn State to just 7-for-52 shooting the ball. The Braves didn’t attempt a free throw until nearly 28 minutes into the game.
Senior forward Val Driscoll had six points and 11 rebounds for the Wolverines in one of her most impressive performances of the season. Driscoll was dominant in the paint and frustrated the Braves with seven blocked shots.
“(Driscoll) was tremendous for us tonight,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s a defensive presence, she alters people’s shots and she has a knack for blocking shots.”
Working to Michigan’s favor all afternoon was its height. Goree and Driscoll were two of the tallest players on the court for the entire game — 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4, respectively — and they used their mismatches to dominate the offensive glass.
“We knew we were going to have a size advantage so we wanted to make sure we did go inside,” Barnes Arico said. “Cyeesha does a terrific job for getting us second chance opportunities.”
Paced by a pair of early baskets from Driscoll and Goree, the Wolverines opened up a 10-to-zero lead in the game’s first 6:22.
Michigan’s defense was nearly flawless during that span as it prevented any kind of penetration from the Braves and forced multiple travelling calls, turnovers and a shot clock violation.
Though its defense kept it from ever being threatened, Michigan looked sloppy on offense for the better part of the first half. The Wolverines shot 12-for-28 in the first frame and made only two of its nine 3-point attempts.
“We were just very aggressive,” Thompson said. “That’s what really helped us (on defense) in the first half.”
But in the second half, Michigan’s offense appeared to run more smoothly.
Elmblad opened the half with six points and Thompson followed up with seven of her own, part of a 15-5 run in the half’s first five minutes.
The run seemed to calm down the Wolverines, who took much better looks and shot noticeably more accurately at 50 percent in the final 20 minutes.
“We just tried to play smarter,” Thompson said. “At the beginning we weren’t running things how we were supposed to.”
Even when Alcorn State did manage to slow Michigan down on the interior, Elmblad, Thompson, and sophomore guard Madison Ristovski were waiting on the outside to score. The trio looked more patient in the second frame and, as a result, the Wolverines dominated possessions and got to the free-throw line.
“If they were overplaying us, we tried to get to the basket and get some touches to our post,” Barnes Arico said. “We just got a little more comfortable in the second half.”
Alcorn state never could solve the Wolverines’ defense, and ultimately gave them too many chances to find their rhythm.
“We just stayed focused,” Driscoll said. “We played Michigan basketball like we always do.”