It may have taken nine games, but for Michigan junior Carly Benson, better late than never.
The junior broke out of her early-season slump, when she averaged just more than five points a game, to score 13 points and pick up four rebounds in her team’s biggest win of the year.
But it was the awakening of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s offense that paced the Wolverines in a dominant 82-61 victory over Southern Cal at Crisler Arena last night.
Benson was a major benefactor of a fluid Michigan (6-3) offense. The Wolverines had many open looks in the first half and much of the second. Michigan knocked down 71 percent of its 3-pointers in the first half and 52 percent for the game.
“It felt really good to play good because I was in a slump there for a while,” Benson said. “But when you can’t make a shot, you just have to play good defense and try to pick your teammates up.”
It was Benson’s play that sustained the Wolverines’ lead. She made two wide-open treys in a slow-paced second half. Benson’s points allowed the Wolverines to maintain their lead while the Trojans attempted a comeback and allowed Michigan to extend its lead to 30 before bringing in the bench.
The Wolverines opened the game on a tear, scoring the first 11 points. After a strong performance against Kentucky, senior Krista Clement continued her solid play, knocking down a couple early threes in a nine-point first-half effort.
“We executed our offense really well,” junior Jessica Minnfield said. “We cut to the basket and set screens for each other, and that got our offense moving.”
Minnfield benefited from solid possessions, shooting 3-of-3 from downtown and scoring 16 points. Center Krista Phillips also got into the 3-point groove, knocking down a three from the top of the arc.
The Wolverines were also dominant in the post. Sophomore Sireece Bass came in off the bench, splitting the Trojan defense to make an acrobatic layup for her first points of the season.
But perhaps most impressive was the Wolverines’ defense, which shut down a team that averages more than 70 points per game. Phillips dominated the post, forcing the Trojans to look outside for scoring.
Trailing 16-2, Southern Cal (4-4) ran off eight points in less than a minute, but the Wolverines stood their ground and dominated the rest of the half.
After taking a 20-point lead into halftime, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth was concerned his team would be complacent in the second half and allow the Trojans (ranked just outside the top 25) back into the game.
“I’m never comfortable in a game,” Borseth said. “You got a lead, and you always wonder sometimes at what point is it going to start dissipating.”
Since losing at No. 16 Notre Dame last Saturday, Michigan has won against two quality teams.
Borseth is not buying his team’s performance of late; he knows things can fall apart just as quickly.
But if the offense continues to play as well as they did last night, the year could get much better.