- Allison Farrand/Daily
By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 7, 2014
The Michigan women’s basketball team got off on the right foot Sunday when it traveled to Columbus and dismantled the Buckeyes, 64-49, to open conference play.
And despite the Wolverines’ low shooting percentage — 36.2 percent for the game — Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 10-4 overall) found its offense from the free-throw line. The Wolverines made a season-high 26 free throws and shot 92.9 percent from the charity stripe, including a perfect 20-for-20 in the second half. It was the third straight win for Michigan, which will have its first home game of 2014 on Thursday.
“Anytime you can come to Ohio and come away with a victory is terrific,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “That was one of the first things upon taking this job — everybody told me about this rivalry. It’s important.”
Junior forward Nicole Elmblad recorded her fifth double-double of the season, with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Freshman point guard Siera Thompson led all scorers with 18 points.
DOMINATING DOWN LOW: Coming into the season, Barnes Arico cited size as a concern, but her team ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rebounds per game and third in offensive boards. But their rebounding defense and rebounding margin, which ranks best in the conference, have compensated for their size disadvantage.
“Our ability to box out has been great, and we really are the most undersized team,” Barnes Arico said. “But because of that, it’s something we try to work on each and every single day, and we try to make it a toughness thing.”
Rebounding is leading to success, as evidenced by the Wolverines’ 10-2 record when out rebounding their opponent. A reason for the surprising ability on the boards starts with junior forward Cyesha Goree, who has exceeded all expectations as a starter. Goree is second on the team with 8.6 boards per game, but averages 10 fewer minutes than the team’s leading rebounder, Elmblad. She now has five games with double-digit rebounds and has joined Elmblad as an irreplaceable player for Michigan.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Barnes Arico often cites Goree and Elmblad as the hardest-working players in practice. Both players had 12 rebounds and helped Michigan dominate Ohio State on the glass, leading the team to outrebound the Buckeyes by 15.
“They’ve really stepped up, and its great to have a night like that,” Barnes Arico said. “But we are continuing to work on their ability to crash the boards.”
RED-HOT THOMPSON: When Thompson came to Michigan, she knew she had big shoes to fill at point guard after Jenny Ryan graduated. But the California native has stepped up to the challenge and taken the starting position by the horns.
In the last two games, Thompson has scored 20 and 18 points, leading all scorers in both contests. This season, she’s second on the team with 14 points per game and has scored in double digits 10 times. Thompson also adds 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, illustrating her impact on most possessions.
Her emergence is one of the reasons the Wolverines have shaken off the “transition year” and “rebuilding” labels and instead look poised to make a run in the Big Ten and reach a third straight NCAA Tournament berth in March.
“One step at a time,” Barnes Arico said. “One step at a time, but this team really works hard and it’s showing.”