- Teresa Mathew/Daily
By Shannon Lynch, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 10, 2013
After a productive offensive victory against Virginia last weekend in Charlottesville at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Michigan women’s basketball team is coming home to face Eastern Michigan this Wednesday.
Michigan’s endurance was tested throughout the first month of the season, when it had to compete on the road in seven of its first nine games. Plus, the team has played the last two games without its leading scorer, junior forward Shannon Smith, who averages 17.3 points per game. In her absence, four players have scored in double figures.
Coming back to Crisler Center to finish out the year is a blessing for the Wolverines, but a rigorous four-game home stand will be a different kind of challenge for the team.
“It’s been brutal and we threw them right into the fire,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Now they’ve really got to focus on finishing strong in the classroom as well as finishing the year strong on the basketball court.”
Facing Eastern Michigan in the “Battle of Washtenaw County” poses no easy task for the Wolverines. The undefeated Eagles are averaging 90.5 points per game and currently rank fifth nationally in scoring. Though Michigan leads the series 12-8, Eastern Michigan has won in three of the last four meetings.
“They really push the basketball, they take a tremendous amount of shots a game, they go in transition, they’re extremely athletic,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re playing exceptionally well, and playing with a lot of confidence.”
On Wednesday night, the Wolverines will need to focus on decreasing their turnovers, as the Eagles have been averaging 26.7 points off turnovers per game. Eastern Michigan also leads the Mid-American Conference in rebounds, averaging 18 offensive and 35.5 defensive boards per game.
In Michigan’s last game, freshman guard Janay Morton and senior guard Desyree Thomas led the team in points with 18 and 17, respectively. Thomas is second in the MAC in steals (3.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (5.8) while ranking third in field goal percentage (55.9). Morton and two other players in the Eagles lineup rank in the top-12 in the MAC conference for scoring.
The lineup for Wednesday is still questionable for the Wolverines. According to Barnes Arico, Smith practiced at about a 75 percent level on Monday, but is still in pain. Her return to the court at Crisler this week is still undetermined.
Senior forward Val Driscoll has made strides in Smith’s absence, scoring a career-high 12 points in Virginia and going 6-for-6 from the field for Michigan. But the Wolverines will have to do more than just shoot, turning up the pressure on defense to keep the Eagles at bay.
One thing Barnes Arico won’t have to worry about is the mindset of her players. After fighting for a close 64-62 loss to No. 15 LSU and earning two recent wins, it’s clear that the team has bought into the mentality established by the Michigan coaching staff.
Michigan shot 53.8 percent from the field against Virginia, the third game of the season in which the Wolverines shot over 50 percent. Freshman guard Siera Thompson and sophomore guard Madison Ristovski moved the ball around and combined for 17 of 21 assists in the game.
“There really isn’t a superstar, and no one really cares who gets the credit,” Barnes Arico said. “They all want to make the extra pass and it shows up in the box score. It shows up with easier baskets and shot selection.”