Just under eight minutes into the first half, Indiana guard Cyndi Valentin made her first basket of the game — a short jumper off an assist from Leah Enterline. The play sparked a 10-5 run that let the Hoosiers reclaim a two-point lead with three minutes left in the half.

It also marked the first Indiana possession in which Valentin wasn’t guarded by Michigan forward Kelly Helvey.

Heading into yesterday’s game, Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett knew her team would have to contain Valentin to snap its nine-game losing streak. One of the Big Ten’s top offensive threats, Valentin came into the game ranked fifth in the conference with 16.7 points per game and had hit almost 40 percent of her 3-point shots.

Burnett relied on Helvey — the Wolverines’ most aggressive defender — to shut her down.

“We came into the game knowing we had to stop (Valentin), and Kelly Helvey again got the assignment,” Burnett said. “We said, ‘Kelly, instead of switching out a lot, you try to stay on her.’ ”

And except when she was resting on the bench, she did. Helvey’s tenacious defense held Valentin to just seven points on 3-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-4 from beyond the arc — her third-lowest scoring output of the season. And while forwards Tabitha Pool and Janelle Cooper guarded Valentin effectively at times, Helvey deserved most of the credit.

Throughout the game, the 5-foot-11 forward stayed close to the smaller Valentin, limiting her looks at the basket. And even when Indiana’s offense dictated that another player guard Valentin, Helvey was still focused on stopping her.

Early in the second half, Valentin had the ball on the perimeter and looked to make a move toward the basket past Michigan forward BreAnne McPhilamy. Helvey rotated over and batted the ball away from Valentin, regaining possession for the Wolverines. That kind of hustle by Helvey forced Valentin to turn over the ball five times, her highest such total of the season.

“(Michigan) did a good job,” Indiana coach Kathi Bennett said. “(Valentin) didn’t have one of her better days. They … took her out of the game.”

Bennett quickly cited Valentin’s foul trouble as an additional reason why she was not a factor in the game. Valentin committed four fouls, the last coming with nearly eight minutes remaining in the second half. Her early foul trouble not only caused her to log just 29 minutes, after playing the full 40 in her last three games, but also forced her to play with less intensity on offense and defense. That tentativeness prevented Valentin from driving to the basket and drawing the foul, a move she has depended on for points. Valentin is third in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage, hitting .883 of her shots from the charity stripe. Against Michigan, Valentin did not make it to the line for just the third time this season.

While Burnett stressed that it took a solid team effort to stop Valentin, Helvey appreciated being the player most responsible for containing her.

“I like to take (the pressure) on myself,” Helvey said. “I want to be the one that if she scores, it’s my fault. I’m going to do my best not to let her score.”

Helvey’s strong defensive performance — coupled with her eight points on 3-for-7 shooting — represented the second straight game in which she has improved from her early season struggles. Helvey averaged just 5.1 points on 12-for-36 shooting through the Wolverines’ first five Big Ten games. In Michigan’s 73-49 loss at Minnesota on Thursday, Helvey scored 11 points and notched four steals.

But being able to shut down Indiana’s best player in a Michigan victory meant the most to her.

“That’s a lot of pride for me,” Helvey said.

 

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