Though the final score said otherwise, the Michigan women’s basketball team didn’t feel like it walked away with a loss Saturday to Iowa.
In its last home game of the season, the Wolverines (8-7 Big Ten, 17-11 overall) played strong in both halves and shot 50.8 percent, matching its best shooting performance in conference play.
“We knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us, but it went back and forth,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We came out ready to play.”
And for the second time in as many games, junior guard Shannon Smith led the way.
Smith started the season as the team’s only viable offensive option, but the growth and emergence of junior forward Cyesha Goree and freshman guard Siera Thompson has often put Smith in the backseat of the scoring action.
In Michigan’s last two games, though, Smith has put up 38 total points. But in the game before that, though, she was held to just five.
“That’s what we’ve talked to Shannon about, you have to be more consistent,” Barnes Arico said.
Smith’s inconsistency is attributed to the fact that the opposing team’s best defender hovers between her and Thompson. When one isn’t in an offensive rhythm, the other faces the best defenders.
“When you put numbers up like that, you’re facing the opponents’ best defender night in and night out,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re trying to be physical with you and they’re trying to bang you around. Shannon’s really thin and tiny, and she had to get accustomed to that, and she had to learn to adjust to that.
“And against Indiana and Iowa she did.”
DOMINATING THE MIDDLE: Senior center Val Driscoll has been an unexpected force in the middle this season. Last year, Driscoll sat out the entire campaign with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. But after months of recovery, she has stormed back to make the most of her last season as a Wolverine.
With Michigan in need of height in its starting lineup, Driscoll’s 6-foot-4 frame was a welcomed option. Now a consistent starter, Driscoll averages six rebounds and just over two blocks per game. The center is tied for seventh in program history on the single-season block list.
Driscoll has been a big reason why the Wolverines have outrebounded their opponents in 24 of 28 games. Against the Hawkeyes, Driscoll posted a career-high 18 points.
“(Against Iowa) we wanted to take advantage of our size inside, and our kids did a great job of really looking inside, of attacking the high-low, of getting Val or Cyesha touches,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s so great for a coach to see a young lady develop like she has, and see her have such a special night in front of her parents and her family and her team.”
PEEKING AHEAD: Michigan is in the middle of a week-long break between games, giving it some much needed rest. But Saturday, the Wolverines have a tough road test in No. 8 Penn State.
“It’s the first time since the first week of the season that we’ve had a bye week, so it gives our kids a chance to rest their legs, to get rejuvenated, to get back in the gym and get their shooting touch back,” Barned Arico said. “So I’m excited for this week and excited to head to Penn State on Saturday.”
In the Big Ten Tournament just a few days later, Michigan will likely open against Wisconsin in the first round, a team it beat twice this season — most recently Jan. 26 by 16.
But afterward, they could meet Nebraska or Michigan State, teams against which the Wolverines are winless this season. If Michigan can pull off the kind of fight it did against Iowa, though, it has a chance to shake up the conference tournament.