Prior to the start of the season for the Michigan women’s basketball team, their regular season schedule may have looked intimidating.
After playing a tough pre-conference season that included games against four teams ranked in the top-25, the Wolverines had to open their Big Ten season against two of the three teams in the preseason Big Ten rankings — at home against No. 12 Ohio State and on the road against No. 13 Iowa. Not many people expected the Wolverines to pull off two Big Ten upsets in a span of four days, especially not after facing No. 24 Boston College a week earlier.
Well, so far so good.
The Wolverines started the Big Ten season off with a bang by beating Iowa 60-53 Sunday afternoon, and for the first time in program history they beat three ranked teams in consecutive games. For the time being, Michigan (2-0 Big Ten, 9-5 overall) sits atop the Big Ten standings, leaving the dangerous Hawkeyes (0-2, 12-3) in the dust.
“Ohio State and Iowa are two of the highest ranked teams in our conference right now,” junior guard Courtney Boylan said. “Playing those teams first and winning is a great confidence booster for us going into the rest of the Big Ten season.”
Before a timeout with 4:13 left in the first half, things were not looking up for the Wolverines. They were playing solid defense, but they were having trouble scoring any points. After being down by six, they overcame their slow start by going on a 13-1 run to close the half, creating a lead they never relinquished.
“We started hitting our shots, and I think a big part of it was that we started playing with a lot more energy on defense,” sophomore guard Jenny Ryan said. “When that happened, it made life a lot easier.”
The team’s energy was sparked by Boylan, who made her first start of the season in place of injured sophomore guard Nya Jordan. Boylan was the expected starting point guard at the beginning of the year, but her playing time has been inconsistent.
Still, head coach Kevin Borseth felt confident with the energetic 5-foot-7 point guard, and she rewarded him with a career high 18 points and 5 rebounds. She played nearly the entire game, providing the intensity Michigan needed in wake of Jordan’s injury.
“I thought she was the difference for us,” Borseth said. “I thought she really had an outstanding night.”
The Wolverines usually rely on their outstanding outside shooting, but the team shot only 22 percent from beyond the arc against the Hawkeyes. This time around, inside scoring got the job done. Michigan scored 28 points in the paint and counted on their defense and rebounding to make up for their unusually poor three-point shooting.
Sharpshooter Carmen Reynolds went 0-for-5 from beyond the arc, but she changed her approach midway through the game to finish with 10 rebounds and countless other plays to help set up Wolverine baskets.
Ryan played yet another great game, scoring 15 points to supplant the scoring of Veronica Hicks, who scored 11 points despite foul trouble. Ryan continues to prove she is an offensive threat after working extensively on her shot this summer in an effort to combat offensive issues she suffered in her freshman year.
But defense might have been the most impressive aspect of this particular game. Iowa features a trio of guards — senior Kachine Alexander, sophomore Jaime Printy and junior Kamille Wahlin — who average 41.3 points per game. Michigan did a fantastic job in slowing them down. The trio scored a combined 29 points, but did so on a paltry 10-for-45 shooting, including 5-for-26 from 3-point land. The Wolverines forced bad shots throughout the contest, which helped to increase their offensive output.
It may not have been the prettiest victory, but it is an impressive victory nonetheless. Michigan is proving that they have the explosiveness and depth to run with any team in the Big Ten — something many teams cannot claim.
“Being able to win a game in the Big Ten is tough enough,” Borseth said. “Winning them on the road is a big plus.”