Unlucky 13 was up to its old tricks yesterday afternoon, when the Michigan women’s basketball team took on visiting Vanderbilt at Crisler Arena.
The Commodores entered the contest ranked 13th in the country.
By beating them 50-42 Michigan made sure they left a little lower in the polls.
Picked to win the Southeastern Conference, Vanderbilt was accustomed to faster, more athletic teams who push the ball up the court and score on the fast break. The Wolverines are just the opposite — they like to slow the game down, pound the ball inside and get rebounds. It was a matchup of two very different styles of play, and Michigan came out on top.
“To you, it may look like agony,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “But to us, it was exactly what we wanted to do.”
Saying the Wolverines got off to a slow start offensively would be an understatement. They were scoreless for the first five minutes and 26 seconds of the game before senior Carly Benson mercifully cashed the first bucket.
The Commodores led 7-2, but it wouldn’t last long. Michigan went on a 7-2 run of its own after that first basket, and never looked back.
The Wolverines went into halftime with a 21-15 lead. The 15-point output was the lowest Vanderbilt had scored in a half since January.
“I think our defense was absolutely outstanding,” Borseth said. “In the half court, we were rock-solid.”
Vanderbilt forward Christina Wirth, a preseason All-SEC selection and a candidate for conference player of the year, was Michigan’s main concern defensively. The Wolverines stepped up to the challenge, holding the senior to just six points.
“She didn’t get shots that she normally gets from the perimeter,” Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said. “But I think they did a good job on her inside, as well.”
The strong defensive effort continued in the second half as the Wolverine offense got going, opening up their largest lead of the game at 12.
The Commodores were switching their defense from zone to man all afternoon, and even unveiled a full-court press in the second half. But the Wolverines remained relatively unfazed.
“They did exactly what we expected them to do,” Borseth said. “I think we did a pretty good job with it and we played at our pace.”
Senior guard Jessica Minnfield led Michigan with 14 points, but it was her contribution as a floor general that helped the Wolverines the most when she was navigating through the full-court press.
“I put it all on confidence, basically,” she said. “Having my teammates have confidence in me.”
There was typically balanced scoring for Michigan, with senior forward Stephany Skrba contributing eight points on 4-5 shooting and Benson nearing a double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. Sophomore guard Veronica Hicks added seven.
After losing to 12th-ranked Texas A&M at home on Thursday by three points, Borseth speculated this win could do great things for his team’s confidence.
“It just showed that our kids can play with a good, quality team,” he said. “And we need that.”