Since her first collegiate start 16 days ago, freshman point guard Rachael Carney has been the spark the Michigan women’s basketball team needed.
After contributing a total of just 90 minutes over the course of the team’s first 13 games, Carney has played 94 minutes over the last four, starting every game.
Michigan has gone 2-2 over that span, with the two losses coming against No. 12 Purdue and No. 13 Penn State – third and second in the Big Ten, respectively.
Like Carney’s minutes, her confidence running the point has also been soaring.
“At the beginning of the season, I was a little nervous coming in as a freshman,” Carney said. “But now I’ve gotten to know the team, I’ve gotten more comfortable with the girls and being on the court.”
For a freshman, Carney has tremendous poise. And she needed it most during her first career start, which came in West Lafayette – home to one of the rowdiest basketball crowds in the country at Mackey Arena.
“Making her first start in front of 11,000 people and holding her own mentally, I thought was a big sign,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said.
Since then, Carney has left her mark on the team, contributing more than the box score gives her credit for. Sure, she has compiled 14 assists and 11 steals over the past four games, but Carney’s true contribution has been her leadership.
Whether the Wolverines need to be calmed down or fired up, Carney has been there to keep the team in line.
“She has been very vocal,” Guevara said. “She has been, I think, able to get the respect of the other players on the team, and I think that helps (her leadership) tremendously.”
Carney’s leadership was evident before she even set foot on Michigan’s campus. During her junior and senior seasons at Powers Catholic High School in Flint, she led her team to Class B state championships.
Guevara has gone so far as to compare Carney’s leadership to that of another Michigan freshman – men’s point guard Daniel Horton.
“You look at a Daniel Horton, and how Daniel has really emerged,” Guevara said, “And I think you need your point guard to be that way.
“Your point guard has got to be the floor general.”
Carney showed her ability to direct the team Sunday in Michigan’s heartbreaking 72-70 loss to Penn State. She finished the game with a career-high seven points and tied another career-high with five assists. At the top of Michigan’s zone defense, Carney was effective with her active hands and feet, reaching in and knocking the ball loose en route to her four steals.
Her 3-pointer with 4:25 to go in the game – the only one thus far in her career – pulled Michigan to within one point before its eventual loss.
“I haven’t scored too many points so far in my career,” Carney said. “They were just kind of playing off me a little bit, so the shot was there, and it went in.”
If Carney can continue to improve her scoring production – she went without a point in two of her first three starts before pitching in seven on Sunday – she may be able to give Michigan the lift it will need against Michigan State and Wisconsin later this week.