Sophomore Carmen Reynolds took a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief, while freshman Jenny Ryan screamed “Enough” on the court and clapped her hands in excitement after the win.
And the rest of the Michigan women’s basketball team walked out of Crisler Arena, sharing their sentiment after a 70-56 win over Indiana last Sunday with a huge burden lifted off their shoulders.
The Wolverines (3-6 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) finally climbed the hill that they have been struggling to climb all season — they got their first conference win over a team other than last-place Iowa.
But beyond that hill lies a mountain that Michigan will attempt to ascend tomorrow when it travels to Champaign to battle Illinois.
The Fighting Illini (3-6, 11-8) are on a four-game losing streak, with their most recent loss coming against Penn State last Sunday.
Junior guard Veronica Hicks and the Wolverines will have their hands full against an Illinois squad that forces 18 turnovers per game. And turnovers can certainly paralyze Michigan coach Kevin Borseth’s aggressive offense.
Since Michigan’s offensive scheme is often disrupted by large and assertive defenses, second chances and offensive put-backs will be key components in capturing the victory over the Illini.
And that means Ryan will have to give the Wolverines the spark they need under the net.
Ryan leads the team with 129 rebounds, including 44 offensive boards. Freshman guard Dayeesha Hollins is second on the team with just 29. Ryan’s second effort gives Michigan the second chances it needs to stay in games with top contenders.
“Rebounding-wise, it’s important,” Borseth said. “It comes along with our strategy. We just move the ball, we cant rely too much on new things.”
In all but one of the Wolverines’ eight losses, they were out-rebounded by their opponents. And in all of those games Michigan had fewer offensive rebounds than its foes.
But to capitalize on those rebounds, the Wolverines will be forced to get into a rhythm early, and they should continue to take their perimeter shots even if their shooting starts off slow.
“We needed to get stops,” Hicks said before the season. “We have to come back, finish the play, and take it right back. That’s really a big part of winning.”
Michigan has to be flexible enough that any missed shots early in the matchup will not limit the shots they take later in the game. Because, as they’ve shown all season, the Wolverines are a second-half team.
Michigan is averaging 37 points a game in the second half this season, but just 31 points in the first. Illinois will have to compete against a team that has proven, time and time again, it has the stamina to fight consistently for an entire 40 minutes.
Tonight’s game may be more important than any other this season for the Wolverines, a win will make them a possible contender in the Big Ten, but a loss may haunt them like their 68-48 loss to Wisconsin on Jan. 10, which triggered a three-game losing streak.
For Michigan, Jenny Ryan said it best.
Enough is enough.