During the Michigan women’s basketball team’s loss to Michigan State on Sunday, freshman guard Nicole Elmblad received a pass from senior guard Courtney Boylan, spotted up and knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner of the floor.
Elmblad had an air of confidence in her shot, which is something that hasn’t been there often this season.
Prior to the beginning of conference play on Dec. 30, Elmblad started every game in front of junior guard Nya Jordan, who suffered a season-ending knee injury the previous year and hadn’t seemed 100-percent healthy. But as the Wolverines entered the heart of their Big Ten schedule, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth was looking for more experience and decided to move Jordan into the starting five.
This change in the line-up reduced Elmblad’s playing time by five minutes per game.
And though Elmblad didn’t start the game against the Spartans, the freshman tallied a season-high 35 minutes. Elmblad also made the most of her increased playing time, going 2-for-2 from behind the arc and finishing with 8 points, a season-high.
“I put (Jordan) in there and they just sat off of her,” Borseth said. “We just didn’t feel comfortable offensively because (Jordan’s) man was kind of sitting on (junior forward Rachel Sheffer’s) backside the entire while.
“I didn’t know that we had enough things for Nya to do offensively when somebody wasn’t guarding her … but Nicole came in and they had to guard her because she made a couple of threes. It was a big game for her, obviously. She understands the rivalry, so I thought she played really well.”
Along with Elmblad, freshman Brenae Harris has also seen an increase in playing time as of late. When Michigan defeated Northwestern on Feb. 2, the Ohio native played 14 minutes against the Wildcats — six more than her season average.
Harris was given the task of running the point against Northwestern, which is usually done by the experienced Boylan. Harris looked cool and collected, tallying just one turnover in her 14 minutes, but only scoring two points. On multiple plays, she had an open look, and instead of taking the shot or driving to the basket, she passed it.
“Where Courtney is kind of a savvy, strong point guard and takes care of the ball, Brenae plays at a faster pace,” Borseth said. “She’s quick and explosive. She can guard you one-on-one, she can press the ball, and she can get you moving in transition, but we haven’t really given her an opportunity yet to do it.”
The freshmen also allow Michigan to give opposing teams looks that they haven’t seen before. Both games against Northwestern and Michigan State were second encounters for the Wolverines this season, and Sheffer said it’s nice to throw in people who match up differently.
As the Wolverines go into the final leg of their season, the two freshmen will continue to play an important role. But no one knows what specific role that will be. Borseth has shown all season that he will change the line-up at any point during a game if the situation calls for it.
With the experience that Elmblad and Harris continue to get, Borseth should continue to feel more and more comfortable putting them on the court. Though neither has been anywhere near a scoring leader for Michigan this season, they’ve shown the potential that they can be.
While they aren’t the flashiest players on the court, they could be important down the line, when the Wolverines continue to look for their first NCAA Tournament berth in more than 10 years.
“I think having younger people in there and giving them experience for even later in the season is awesome,” said senior guard Carmen Reynolds.