Saturday in South Bend, the Michigan women’s basketball team was effectively locked out of the paint.
Despite playing arguably their most aggressive game of the season, the Wolverines, save for senior forward Cyesha Goree, were ultimately overwhelmed by a relentless Notre Dame team that blocked shots and grabbed offensive rebounds at will.
But in Friday’s dominant victory over Canisius at Crisler Center, the Wolverines proved that they are still capable of holding their own at the glass. Michigan didn’t hesitate to exploit its obvious height advantage, grabbing 21 offensive rebounds and 47 in total.
“It was nice to play a team that we were actually bigger than, that doesn’t normally happen,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It’s nice to see when we are bigger than a team, we took advantage of the offensive rebounding opportunities. That’s something that we really stress.”
Goree, who stands 6-foot-3, two inches taller than any of the Golden Griffins, led the way with 11 boards. Sophomore guard Danielle Williams, who was inserted into the starting lineup in a last-minute decision by Barnes Arico, provided a spark with a remarkable rebounding performance of her own despite her 5-foot-9 stature. Williams displayed a fearless attitude down low, grabbing five offensive rebounds (seven total) in just her second career start.
Williams didn’t find out she was starting until halfway through the Friday afternoon shootaround — in fact, she was a member of this week’s scout team and thus had been simulating a Canisius player in practice. But Barnes Arico surprised everyone — including her own coaching staff — when she made the snap decision to start Williams Friday afternoon.
“Danielle Williams is one of the toughest kids I know,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s been doing a great job in practice. We really emphasize in our culture, playing hard and doing the intangibles, and Danielle has really done that all week. We also wanted to get the tempo up and pressure them, and she’s done that through her whole high school career. She was just a spark for us.”
Williams may have provided a needed burst of energy, but Goree’s post presence that overwhelmed Canisius. Just six days after scoring 17 points against Notre Dame, Goree was again the prime target on the offensive end for the Wolverines. Numerous times in the first half, Michigan’s guards were able to lob the ball to Goree in transition for easy buckets down low.
“Cyesha works incredibly hard,” Barnes Arico said. “We need to make sure that we get her touches on the offensive end to reward her for how hard she’s working rebounding and how hard she’s working running the floor.”
Especially when playing against tough defenses like the Fighting Irish, Barnes Arico has worked with her guards to make them able to get the ball to Goree, by far the Wolverines’ most reliable option in the post area.
Michigan still has another proven defender, rebounder and intangible executor in senior forward Nicole Elmblad, but its biggest challenge heading into Big Ten season will be to find other players who can play at a high energy level and grab rebounds.
For now, one of those players is Danielle Williams.
“Danielle really deserved that opportunity,” Barnes Arico said. “When you get it and embrace it like she did, I think she’s deserving of another one.”