The Michigan women’s basketball team had a serious advantage coming into Sunday’s contest.

Scott Bell
Sophomore Carly Benson scored a career-high 22 points in a win over the Wildcats. (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily)

With just one player listed at 6-foot-2 or taller, Northwestern’s post players seemed obviously overmatched against taller Michigan players, especially 6-foot-6 freshman Krista Phillips.

Despite the clear advantage Phillips would have given Michigan inside, her warmups never came off, and she sat on the bench for the entire game. The reason Phillips didn’t see the court is undisclosed.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Wolverines didn’t miss her as they grinded out a physical 61-49 win at Crisler Arena.

Several Wolverines stepped up in Phillips’s absence, playing aggressively inside both on offense and defense. Sophomore Carly Benson took charge of the game, not only scoring inside but from practically all areas of the court.

“They don’t have true post players (without Phillips),” Northwestern coach Beth Combs said. “They have a kid like Benson who can play down low, but she’s a 3-point threat, too. They do cause some mismatches on the court.”

Despite Benson’s struggles from behind the arc in past weeks, the sophomore shot 4-for-7 from downtown yesterday, confusing the Wildcat defense by slipping out of the paint to find open shots behind the arc.

Northwestern couldn’t find an answer for Benson. She scorched its defense for a game- and career-high 22 points.

Other players, like junior Janelle Cooper, found other ways to exploit Northwestern’s interior defense, driving through open lanes to convert easy points in the paint. Even tough she’s not considered a physical inside player, Cooper drove more comfortably than previous games, due to the large spacing in Northwestern’s defense.

The physical offensive gameplan led to an energized defense, said Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett.

“When a team had trouble scoring, they back down (defensively),” Burnett said. “That’s a typical pattern of any team. So once we started attacking offensively, we starting playing aggressive defensively.”

Playing time: Sophomore Stephany Skrba has seen plenty of minutes in the last three games, averaging 26 per contest. Skrba played all but five minutes against Northwestern.

But yesterday was Skrba’s first start in 11 games – a stretch in which Michigan was 2-9 – and she made the most of it.

While she recorded just seven points, Skrba contributed in many of the intangibles that Burnett likes to stress, especially rebounds, recording nine total.

“Stephany Skrba has been tremendous on the offensive boards all year,” Burnett said. “She’s very long, she has a tremendous wingspan, and she gets her hands on a lot of things.”

Pulling out all the stops: The members of Michigan’s sports marketing program really want people to come to Crisler Arena for women’s basketball games.

They proved Sunday they’re willing to do just about anything to fill all those empty seats.

Although most games include a couple of marketing ploys, Sunday’s contest was accompanied by enough gimmicks to last an entire season.

Free shirts, trading cards, junior Katie Dierdorf posters, mini basketballs, free Domino’s Pizza, balloons, team pictures and a halftime show involving dogs racing small children (believe it or not, the kids won) were all present at the game.

And the fans loved it.

While there were still plenty of empty seats, the generous freebies helped create an exciting atmosphere in the arena.

That positive energy led to chants and noise that are normally absent at most games.

At one point during the first half, some energized fans even started “The Wave.” It was hardly impressive compared to even the most lackluster “Wave” in Michigan Stadium on any football Saturday, but you’ll never see the stunt executed more successfully with just 3,000 fans in attendance.

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