Friday night, the Michigan women’s basketball team took the court for the first time this season in the team’s lone exhibition game. Playing Division II foe Wayne State, the Wolverines got to work early on the offensive side of the ball.

Michigan had no problems brushing off the offseason rust by scoring on its first six possessions and never looking back, holding on for a 81-55 win.

After leading 21-4 early, the offense stayed hot throughout the first half, leading by as many as 25. The Wolverines went into halftime shooting 56.4 percent from the field. But coming out of the locker room for the second half, Michigan looked sluggish and tired, letting the Warriors cut into the lead — the Wolverines only outscored Wayne State by four in the second half.

With a significant part of last season’s squad gone, sophomore guard Madison Ristovski and junior forward Nicole Elmblad jumped into the spotlight as the most experienced returning players.

While both rose to the occasion, Ristovski was particularly impressive early in her first career start, showing an aggressive, offensive instinct she lacked last season.

“It was an amazing feeling having my name called out, first time being out there at the beginning of the game,” Ristovski said. “I definitely had butterflies going through my stomach.”

The sophomore attacked the basket early and often and found success with layups, long-range jumpers and even from beyond the arc for her first 3-pointer in Crisler Center. Ristovski had 13 first-half points and finished the game with 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.

“I thought (Ristovski) did a great job,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “One of the things we were talking about was her really being able to contribute on the offensive end and knock down some open shots. I thought she really showed that tonight and did a great job.

“I was really pleased with how she played tonight, and hopefully that gives her some confidence because I know a big thing for her is confidence. So I hope, after tonight, she feels real good about her performance.”

Elmblad, the only returning starter, added eight points and led the team with 15 rebounds. Last season, Elmblad brought a defensive dimension the team desperately needed, but this year Barnes Arico needs her to play an offensive role as well as be aggressive on the boards.

As for the newer faces, junior transfer guard Shannon Smith — who Barnes Arico pointed to as the team’s biggest scoring threat — showcased her shooting ability and led the team in scoring with 22 points. Smith also added eight rebounds.

“I was really proud of Shannon,” Barnes Arico said. “She knows it’s an adjustment period playing for a new coach (and) playing in a new system, but I thought she did a great job tonight.”

Meanwhile, freshman guard Siera Thompson also contributed heavily despite finding herself in early foul trouble. Thompson has a firm hold on the starting point guard position and showed her flashy quickness early, ending the game with 13 points and seven assists.

Thompson kicked off the team’s offense, scoring the first of Michigan’s 21 points, which led to a 21-4 run to open the game. But after the Wolverines’ fast start, Michigan soon looked tired and winded, forcing Barnes Arico to turn to her bench.

“We ran out of gas a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “What we’ve really been emphasizing is trying to get stops on the defensive end, and I think when we run out of gas we slack on defense. When I see them struggling a little bit on the defensive end, I try to take them out, give them a rest and get them back in.”

In addition to keeping the team energized and aggressive on defense, Barnes Arico is working to generate a post presence.

While Michigan found success in the first half in the paint, Barnes Arico wasn’t satisfied with the defensive effort down there. Wayne State’s biggest player — 6-foot-1 center Shareta Brown — exploded for 15 points and 17 rebounds.

“We need to continue to buckle down on defense,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought in the first half, they were able to get into the lane and score a lot more than we were. We need to be able to stop that.

“We are trying to teach them the value of defending and how defense really does win games and wins championships.”

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