Even after the Michigan women’s basketball team’s 74-65 loss to No. 6 Maryland on Wednesday night, its 7-1 start is the best since coach Kevin Borseth was hired in 2007.
Four of the Wolverines’ seven games have been won by a margin of six points or less, and though they lost to the Terrapins by nine points, the Wolverines kept it close for the entire game. They have won on the road against Florida, and won the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving, where they defeated Prairie View A&M, Washington State and Marquette.
“It seems that we somehow just find a way to pull it out at the end of the games,” said senior guard Courtney Boylan. “Last year, we lost some of those games and this year we’ve come out on top.”
As a smaller team — starting three guards without a true center — Michigan has had trouble rebounding in the past, especially against bigger teams. Junior forward Rachel Scheffer is the Wolverines tallest starter at 6-foot-1. But it has been less of an issue this season
“Although (the post players) may not be the ones getting the rebounds, they’re the ones boxing out,” said junior guard Jenny Ryan. “They may not show up on the stat sheet, but they’re getting the big girls out of the way for us little guards to come in and grab the ball, and that has been a big difference maker.”
This strategy of clearing the floor so the smaller guards can rebound has worked so far, as Boylan and Ryan are the team’s leading rebounders. Opponents have averaged only one more rebound per game than the Wolverines this season; Michigan was outrebounded by eight per game a year ago.
“I think we’ve done a better job rebounding (this season), which I think has been an area that we’ve addressed and got better at,” Borseth said.
But Maryland had an answer for Michigan’s strategy, as it outrebounded the Wolverines 51-28.
Michigan’s fast start can’t just be attributed to rebounding — they’ve also outscored opponents by 10 points per game. Most of their offensive production has come from Boylan, Scheffer and senior forward Carmen Reynolds. Boylan has emerged as the go-to scorer.
“(Courtney scoring) can’t be what we expect for the rest of the year because you can’t put all your eggs in one basket,” Borseth said. “So we’re trying to do other things to help us score when it gets to that point, other than just one player.”
With a roster returning four starters from a year ago, the Wolverines’ experience has also played an important role early, especially at the end of games.
When the shots haven’t fallen, Michigan has been able to get to the free-throw line. When the Wolverines defeated Seton Hall on Nov. 20, the Pirates made multiple late 3-pointers, forcing Michigan to win it at the charity stripe. The team is 79 percent on the season, and Boylan is leading the way with 27 free throws and is shooting 82 percent.
“I think the big difference (this season) is in a lot of the games we may not have played our best, especially towards the beginning of the year, and we somehow find a way to win games,” said Boylan. “I guess our team chemistry and togetherness is the best that it’s ever been.”