Women’s basketball wins Big Ten opener against Ohio State

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By Max Cohen, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 5, 2014

Sophomore guard Madison Ristovski missed a jumper with 12:45 left in the Michigan women’s basketball team’s game at Ohio State on Sunday night, but instead of the miss marking the end of the Wolverines’ possession, her team went into action.

Junior forward Cyesha Goree immediately applied a sturdy box out in the interior, and junior guard Shannon Smith sprinted from the perimeter to grab the loose rebound. Once she gathered the ball, Smith deftly drove toward the basket for a layup that gave Michigan a 12-7 lead.

The play was a microcosm of the Wolverines’ effort in their 64-49 victory over the Buckeyes in their first Big Ten contest of the season. The team’s jumpers didn’t always fall, and many of their offensive possessions were far from smooth. Instead, Michigan relied on rebounding, free-throw shooting, defensive pressure and pure hustle to down Ohio State.

Early on, Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 10-4 overall) demonstrated that it would attack the glass with a vengeance. The disparity in rebounding continued until the final buzzer, and the Wolverines finished with 47 boards to Ohio State’s 29.

“We probably are the most undersized team,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(Rebounding) is something that we try to work on each and every single day. We try to make it a toughness thing.”

The Wolverines’ grit on the glass made up for them shooting just 36.2 percent — their worst shooting performance from the field since the season opener against Bowling Green — but the Buckeyes had even greater struggles from the field. In the first half, Ohio State (1-1, 11-7) hoisted up 3-pointer after 3-pointer yet ended the half 1-for-12 from beyond the arc. Some of the misses were the result of a pressure-filled zone defense employed by Michigan, while others were open looks that were executed poorly.

Though they turned the ball over 19 times, the Wolverines never let the Buckeyes back into the game after building up an early lead. Despite the ungainly combination of turnovers and missed shots, Michigan prevailed with its rebounding and by attacking the basket after its shots didn’t fall early on.

“When they were overplaying and pressuring so much we said, ‘Go to the rim, try to get to the basket,’ ” Barnes Arico said.

The strategy worked. Michigan went to the free-throw line 28 times in the game and made all but two of its shots from the charity stripe. In the second half, the Wolverines converted all 20 of their free-throw attempts, putting Ohio State’s comeback attempts to rest.

Michigan was also aided by improved 3-point shooting in the second half. Though their focus was on attacking the rim, the Wolverines shot three-for-four from the 3-point line after the break to close out the game.

Three Michigan players scored in double figures, led by 18 points from freshman guard Siera Thompson. Goree and junior guard Nicole Elmblad had 12 rebounds apiece as Elmblad recorded her fifth double-double of the season.

With less than two minutes left in the game, Barnes Arico flashed a smile from the bench and substituted in several her backups. Michigan, sweaty but satisfied, left its rival’s building with its first Big Ten victory of the season.