By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 15, 2012
It has been a long week for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
On Sunday, the Wolverines left for Cincinnati to take on Xavier, and after beating the Musketeers on Monday they didn’t make it back to Ann Arbor until after 2 a.m. Tuesday. Thursday, they left for Salt Lake City to take on Utah Friday night.
The Wolverines (2-0) have transitioned well into first-year coach Kim Barnes Arico’s new system, but they may not have slept as much as they’d like to so far.
“Any time you play on the road, that’s tough,” Barnes Arico said in an interview with WTKA on Wednesday. “Playing in other people’s arena, when they are making runs at you at the end of the game — you don’t feel like you have anything going for you.”
But the first-year coach also embraces the opportunity, finding positives in travelling with her new team.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to spend some time with players on the road,” Barnes Arico said. “It was a great first experience travelling with them. They’re a heckuva group. They really, really have good team chemistry, and I think it showed on the road.”
After a strong second half to knock off Xavier, Michigan will look to begin Friday’s game with the strong start it used against Detroit a week ago.
The Wolverines did not practice Tuesday, leaving them little time to prepare for the Utes, an opponent they have played just once in program history — a 55-50 win last November in Ann Arbor. But Barnes Arico is still focused on her own team and finishing strong in the second half.
“The first four minutes of the second half, and we talk about that a lot, really sets the tone,” Barnes Arico said. “It took Xavier out of it and really gave us the cushion.”
Michigan’s lineup has relied heavily on it’s starters thus far, using the experience of senior guards Jenny Ryan and Kate Thompson and senior center Rachel Sheffer.
Sheffer is averaging 17 points per game so far, thanks to an 80-percent mark from 3-point range, and pulled down 8.5 rebounds per game. Thompson is second in points with 16 per game after not starting a single game in her career before. Ryan, has played all but one minute so far, a team high, while leading the team with nine assists.
“Kate Thompson is making shots for us,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s playing exceptionally well and exceptionally confident. And Jenny Ryan is running the point for us, so she’s really stepped up to that challenge.”
Utah (2-0) also has a lineup that lacks depth, primarily in scoring, but has been able to put up good numbers nonetheless.
A pair of forwards — junior Michelle Plouffe and redshirt junior Taryn Wicijowski — each average at least 18 points per game to lead Utah. Wicjiowski, the smallest of the two at 6-foot-3, leads the team in rebounds (22) and assists (nine). The duo will look to take advantage of a 6-foot-1 Scheffer in the post, where she has little depth behind her.
Fifth-year senior guard Iwalani Rodrigues is averaging 16.5 points in her two contests and leads the team in minutes played.
“They are really a good program, and they play exceptionally well at home,” Barnes Arico said. “That will be a big challenge for us. It’s going to be a long week for us as well.
Barnes Arico may look to her bench more frequently in this game after seeing a stronger game from her freshman point guard, Madison Ristovski. Ristovski scored nine points against Xavier off the bench following her two-point career debut.
The first-year coach was pleased with her performance, and will look to the Grosse Point native to provide relief for Ryan.
“I definitely think there was probably a lot of pressure on her in her first contest, playing at home in front of her family and friends,” Barnes Arico said. “The expectations for her coming to Michigan are so high sometimes you forget that. I feel like she was a lot more relaxed (Monday). She really gave us some big minutes.”
The real key to who will see minutes on Friday may be whoever has the most sleep, though.