When junior forward Cyesha Goree is on the court, the Michigan women’s basketball team can go head to head with almost any team in the country.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, Goree does just that quite often. In Michigan’s victory Thursday night over Wisconsin, she wound up on the floor after taking charges or diving for loose balls more than the rest of her teammates combined.
But the trouble for the Wolverines, at least in the nonconference season, has been that Goree doesn’t see nearly as many minutes as her fellow starters. Thursday, junior guard Shannon Smith played 18 first-half minutes, while Goree was on the floor for just 13.
That disparity is still an improvement from what Michigan experienced in the season’s early going. On Nov. 20 against Pittsburgh, for instance, Goree played 22 minutes in a game that remained competitive throughout the 40 minutes of play, as compared to junior forward Nicole Elmblad, who clocked 38.
“Cyesha is an energizer for us,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We need to keep her on the court.”
The increased playing time for Goree was somewhat inevitable — she knew she’d have ample on-court opportunities on a roster with a dearth of experience at the forward position. But instead of becoming complacent, she used the offseason to drop over 20 pounds. While her off-season training has paid dividends all season, she seems closer than ever to being able to put together a full game.
That showed Thursday. Though her time was still somewhat limited, Goree was involved in every phase of the game, recording 10 points and 15 rebounds.
“She has a special knack for offensive rebounds,” Barnes Arico said.
Thanks to her improved fitness level and better defensive discipline, which has helped her to stay out of foul trouble, Goree has been able to avoid the bench and energize the Wolverines for larger portions of each game. Thursday, she didn’t pick up her first personal foul until midway through the first half and made it through the rest of the contest without committing another.
Goree got involved in the ball distribution as well, connecting with senior forward Val Driscoll on an over-the-top lob with 16 minutes remaining in the game.
“I just always try to make sure I’m active,” Goree said. “It’s nice to have that connection.”
The three-forward look featuring Goree, Elmblad and Driscoll is one Barnes Arico has gone with increasingly often as the season has progressed. Though it started when Smith sustained a back injury and didn’t play in a late-November tournament, the formation has stuck since her return.
The bigger lineup usually costs sophomore guard Madison Ristovski, one of Michigan’s leading scorers, a starting spot. But it also puts Goree in a position to excel, giving the Wolverines a distinct advantage in terms of rebounding and helping to mitigate the effect of their undersized backcourt. And Ristovski still is on the floor when it counts — Thursday, she keyed a late-first half run to put Michigan ahead for good and recorded eight points on just five field goal attempts.
“That (look) is something we’ve emphasized the last couple practices,” Barnes Arico said. “They were coming in with (Michala) Johnson, who was averaging 16 points per game. We spent a lot of time working on what she wanted to do and trying to take that away.”