Women's basketball looks to rebound its way to upset over Purdue

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By Max Cohen, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 14, 2014

When the Michigan women’s basketball team takes to the court Wednesday at No. 22 Purdue, it will have the challenge of bouncing back from a Big Ten loss for the first time this season.

Though the team hasn’t had to deal with rebounding from a conference loss, it has been doing plenty of rebounding on the court. The Wolverines maintained an advantage on the glass in each of their first three Big Ten games, collecting 31 more rebounds than their opponents.

“We spend time at practice just blocking out, blocking out, blocking out,” said Michigan coach Barnes Arico on WTKA. “We really say that it’s a toughness thing. It’s an effort and it’s a toughness, and it’s not a skill. If we can be tougher than everybody and we can give greater effort, why can’t we get every rebound?”

Junior forward Cyesha Goree and senior forward Val Driscoll have been the leaders of the recent rebounding surge for the Wolverines. The starting frontcourt duo combined for 61 rebounds in the three conference games, effectively controlling the interior. Barnes Arico has been playing Goree and Driscoll together more frequently as the season has progressed, and the results are paying off.

“Both of those young ladies have been unbelievable, just truly incredible,” Barnes Arico said.

Prior to the start of the season, Barnes Arico thought height could present a challenge for her team, but Driscoll’s emergence has alleviated the problem, helping keep the team competitive in the interior. The tandem’s effectiveness showed in Sunday’s loss to Michigan State. The game marked the first time the Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 11-5 overall) have outrebounded the Spartans since 2002.

Junior guard Nicole Elmblad provides Michigan with another dynamic rebounder, despite her smaller stature at 5-foot-11. She has gathered 23 rebounds in Big Ten play, helping the Wolverines become the second-ranked team in the Big Ten in rebounding margin since conference play began. Michigan is also No. 3 in the conference in rebounds per game during that span.

And the Wolverines will have quite the rebounding challenge in Purdue, the No. 2 team in rebounds per game in conference play. Michigan is 11-3 when outrebounding its opponents this season, so it will look to rely on production on the boards to pull off the road upset.

The Boilermakers (1-2, 11-4) enter the contest fresh off an upset victory over then-No. 14 Penn State on Sunday. Purdue relied on an array of 3-pointers from guard Courtney Moses, who shot six-for-10 from beyond the arc. Moses and guard KK Houser have led the Boilermakers this season. The duo averages slightly more than 15 points per game this season.

The veterans will provide a challenge to Michigan’s less experienced backcourt, but Barnes Arico has been impressed with how freshman point guard Siera Thompson has handled Big Ten competition thus far.

“She has a great demeanor about her, she doesn’t get too high or too low,” Barnes Arico said.

Against Michigan State, Thompson played all 40 minutes and led the team with 16 points. The point guard has maintained composure while bearing the majority of ball-handling responsibility for the Wolverines. She also provides a consistent threat when driving to the basket. When defenders foul on a drive to the basket, she has been nearly perfect from the free-throw line, going 47-for-50 on the season, good for fourth in the nation in free-throw percentage.

Before they beat the Nittany Lions, the Boilermakers struggled early on in conference play. Purdue started off 0-2 with losses to Northwestern and Ohio State.

Last year’s road win against the Boilermakers was Michigan’s first since 1998. The Wolverines will look to rebound both from defeat and on the court in order to make it a two-year streak.