Michigan handles Eagles, moves to 7-3

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 11, 2013

Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico was frustrated her team had turned the ball over for a fifth time in the first half, so she called a timeout. But following the timeout, sophomore guard Madison Ristovski turned the ball over again, so Barnes Arico wasted little time and took her out, replacing her with junior-transfer guard Shannon Smith.

“When she was sitting on the bench next to me, I said, ‘Madison, you need to score,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “So I’m going to put you back in the game and you better score or you’re going to come back out.

“(From there) I thought she just took the game over.”

After she checked in again, Ristovski went on an offensive tear in which she hit three triples in as many minutes and ultimately led the Michigan women’s basketball team to an 89-75 win over Eastern Michigan (6-1) on Wednesday night in Crisler Arena.

Though it took time to find its rhythm and get settled, Michigan’s (7-3) success moving the ball, thanks in part to Ristovski, eventually proved to be too much for the Eagles. In the first half, following Ristovski’s three 3-pointers, the Wolverines moved the ball well recording 13 assists on 16 made field goals. Four players finished the game in double figures and the team scored 65-percent from the field in the second half.

“We’ve really been sharing the basketball between us,” Ristovski said. “In the last few games we’ve had over 20 assists and that’s the great thing about this team, we all share the ball and we’re all looking to make that extra shot.”

After going into halftime on a 20-7 run that led Michigan to its 47-37 lead at the break, Ristovski came out on fire, once again, in the second half. The sophomore ended the game with a career-high 23 points to go along with seven assists. Over the last three games, Ristovski has score 49 points.

“She’s a great passer and that’s what her tendencies are, but on our team we need her to knock down shots,” Barnes Arico said. “And she did a great job of doing that tonight and hopefully she continues to do that.”

Some of Ristovski’s success has come from the fact that the Wolverines’ leading scorer, Smith, has been nursing a back injury. Smith missed two straight games, but came off the bench early against the Eagles. Despite not being in the starting lineup, Smith registered 17 minutes, but looked rusty. She ended with five points, four turnovers and four fouls.

“We lost 18 points a game when Shannon went out and we weren’t sure where that scoring was going to come from,” Barnes Arico said. “But Madison has stepped up and has done a tremendous job of scoring the basketball for us.”

Helping fill the gap left by Smith were junior forwards Cyesha Goree and Nicole Elmblad. Both had huge nights posting double-doubles for the Wolverines. Goree had a career-high 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting to go with 11 rebounds while Elmblad added 13 points and 11 rebounds.

In addition to the junior forwards, senior center Val Driscoll is making an impact in the paint. Starting in Smith’s place, for the third straight game, Driscoll’s recent addition to the starting lineup has given Michigan much-needed height. In the team’s last three outings, Driscoll has blocked 11 shots and has averaged 7.3 rebounds. Against the Eagles, her presence was unmatched, as Eastern Michigan has only one player over six feet. She ended the game with nine points and six boards.

“I think both Cyesha and Val did a tremendous job of calling for the ball and making their presence felt in the second half,” Barnes Arico said. “We were able to take advantage of them getting the ball inside.”

Though the Wolverines ultimately won heftily, their first-half performance was sloppy. Michigan jumped out to a 9-2 lead, before letting Eastern Michigan close the gap and eventually take the lead with 11:48 left in the first half. The two teams exchanged one point leads for the next eight minutes before Ristovski started her tear.

Despite the Wolverines finding their offense, they continued to struggle with turnovers, finishing the game with 21. Michigan’s defense helped compensate, by holding the Eagles to 33.8-percent shooting from the field and 19.4-percent from three.

But with No. 4 Notre Dame coming to town Saturday, the Wolverines won’t be able to shoot and defend themselves out of 21 turnovers.

“There’s a lot of preparation that goes in,” Elmblad said. “It’s going to be a big game.”