At the end of the game, the ball ended up where it had spent most of the day – in the hands of junior Kelly Helvey.
On Sunday, the Michigan women’s basketball team defeated the Ohio Legends in Crisler Arena to win their second exhibition game of the season 71-63.
While sophomore Ta’Shia Walker scored 24 points to lead the team in scoring for the second straight game, the most dominant all-around performance came from the hands of the most experienced player on the team.
Helvey appeared to be everywhere, leading the team with five assists and nine rebounds – including four on the offensive glass. She also contributed three steals, drew three offensive fouls and altered several shots even though she was credited with only one block.
“She plays her rear end off doesn’t she?” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said.
Burnett refers to Helvey as the backbone of her defense, and on Sunday she was exactly that. Without playing overly aggressive – she recorded her first foul with only 2:20 left in the first half and finished with just two – she locked down the passing lanes, repeatedly deflecting the ball and creating fast breaks for the Wolverines.
“That’s what I’m here for – my defense,” Helvey said. “I’m not much of a scorer. I don’t really care to score at all. I just love to play defense.”
Helvey scored just four points, but, as the energetic leader of the team, she is not expected to provide the scoring punch. Based on Michigan’s exhibition results, that role appears to belong to Walker.
After leading the team with 20 points in the exhibition opener, Walker added 24 on 10-for-16 shooting Sunday. Known for scoring most of her points in transition and down low under the basket, Walker showed off a rangy jump-shot as well yesterday, hitting two baseline jumpers from 17 feet away. She added a 15-foot bank shot to extend Michigan’s lead to 67-63 with 1:27 left in the second half. And after six turnovers appeared on the stat sheet next to her 12 first-half points, Walker adjusted and committed no turnovers in the second half, with no adverse effects on her offensive production.
“At halftime, coach Burnett was like ”Shia, you have six. Don’t get anymore,'” Walker said. “I do whatever my team needs me to do. If they need me to dive on the floor 50 times, I’ll do that. If they need me to score, then I’ll do that too.”
The team also needs Walker to rebound, and she contributed eight to the team effort Sunday. After an opener in which the Wolverines were beaten 34-29 on the boards and no player finished with more than five rebounds, Michigan showed marked improvement. They out-rebounded the Ohio Legends 35-25.
After Helvey and Walker, freshmen Stephany Skrba and Carly Benson contributed four rebounds each, and Skrba added 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting in just 20 minutes of action. Standing 6-foot-3, Skrba showed off a slashing ability and quickness uncommon for a player her size. She scored most of her points on aggressive cuts toward the basket, and her four rebounds were the reward of her hanging around the rim.
In one stretch late in the first half, Skrba grabbed a defensive rebound, deflected a loose ball off an Ohio Legends player to send the ball back to the Wolverines, scored off an assist from Helvey and then beat her defender into the lane and converted a pass from sophomore Krista Clement into a bucket.
“Stephany Skrba did a great job of making an impact in rebounding,” Burnett said. “We’ve known Stephany Skrba will be there for us. Her progress will be accelerated from here on out.”
Michigan held a lead of anywhere from three to seven points for most of the game, but could not pull away. The Legends went on an 8-0 run to finish the first half on top, 34-33. But the Wolverines came back and held the lead for most of the second half. After the Legends cut the lead to 65-63 on a three-point play by Quamesha McDowell with 1:40 left, Michigan stepped up defensively.
The Wolverines did not allow the Legends to score again and pulled away thanks to the bank shot from Walker and four successful free throws from sophomore Janelle Cooper and freshman Jessica Minnfield.