Following a historic 2021-22 season, the Michigan women’s basketball team saw last year’s success recognized before Friday’s game, as its first-ever Elite Eight banner was raised to the rafters inside Crisler Center.
The banner ceremony represented a well-deserved honor for a Wolverine team that amassed several program firsts. But as a new season commences — featuring a new playstyle and several new faces — this Michigan team has opened its 2022-23 campaign on a strong foot.
The 25th-ranked Wolverines (2-0) dominated Saint Francis (PA) (0-2), 91-36, in their second game of the season, fueled by a lockdown defensive performance that featured 19 total steals and put the game away early.
“I thought we were awesome in the first half,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I thought we were really locked up and played defense.”
Michigan commanded the floor from the get-go, with sophomore guard Laila Phelia getting the Wolverines on the board within the first 10 seconds. Immediately after, Phelia tracked back on defense and forced a turnover, providing the spark for Michigan’s nine unanswered points in the first three minutes.
The Red Flash took an early timeout in hopes to regroup, but the Wolverines came out of the break just as strong, with sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder knocking down a 3-pointer. Saint Francis scored its first points with a jumper at the four minute mark, but Michigan continued to dominate on both sides of the ball — setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Notching 19 total steals, forcing 36 Saint Francis turnovers and allowing just 12 points in the first half, the Wolverines neutralized almost all of the Red Flash’s opportunities on offense. Graduate forward Emily Kiser served as Michigan’s anchor on defense, racking up four steals and making her presence felt down low.
That tenacity on defense triggered the same energy on offense, especially in transition. The Wolverines scored 46 points off turnovers and 15 fastbreak points, often utilizing quick through passes down the court to catch the Red Flash on their heels and make them pay.
About a minute into the second quarter, a steal from fifth-year wing Leigha Brown sparked rapid passes from Brown to sophomore guard Ari Wiggins to Kiser, who then scored an emphatic layup to cap off the possession and extend Michigan’s lead to 25-7. Kiser quietly finished the game with 25 points, good for highest on the team and setting a new personal career-high.
“She’s so efficient,” Barnes Arico said. “Her teammates are doing a great job of finding her and she’s just knocking them down.”
Michigan continued its dominance in the third quarter despite softening on defense and allowing Saint Francis to double its previous point total. Junior forward Cameron Williams displayed her abilities under the basket, securing an offensive board and put-back layup in the first few minutes of the half. Establishing herself as a force to be reckoned with in the post, Williams finished the game with 8 rebounds and 12 points.
With Williams and Kiser at the helm of the Wolverines’ frontcourt, the duo has been able to find the basket themselves while simultaneously allowing their teammates to exploit opportunities.
“Emily and Cam have taken big steps this year,” sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs said. “It really helps us (as shooters) to just know that we can throw it up there and they’ll go and grab it too.”
Opening up the final quarter with her third 3-pointer of the game, Phelia further demonstrated her ability to score from all three levels throughout the game, going 9-for-10 in field goal attempts and scoring 21 points. Beyond her success on offense, though, Phelia also showcased her strength as a defender.
“I thought Laila Phelia really set the tone (on defense) in the first half,” Barnes Arico said. “She was just outstanding. I know she scored a ton, she made her shots, but she did an outstanding job on the defensive end.”
With players from last year’s team like Naz Hillmon, Amy Dilk and Danielle Rauch in the arena for the pregame banner ceremony, Michigan had a lot to celebrate before the game tipped off.
But after their dominant showing against the Red Flash, the Wolverines have even more to celebrate as they continue to to replicate last season’s success in the early going of their schedule.