Janelle Cooper, Carly Benson and Krista Phillips get most of the credit for the Michigan women’s basketball team’s resurgence.
But there’s one player whose impact has been overshadowed – junior Jessica Minnfield. As the starting point guard, Minnfield’s role isn’t to take over games – it’s to manage the game.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Minnfield said of her perceived secondary position. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff.”
Minnfield’s selfless attitude has translated into a team-high 3.2 assists per game.
It’s her energetic style that helped the Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 18-13 overall) get to the Sweet 16 of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament and manage their first postseason victory since 2001. Tonight, the Wolverines face Southern Mississippi (8-8 Conference USA, 21-13) after coming off an 18-point victory against Virginia Commonwealth Monday.
Minnfield also leads the team in scrapes and bruises.
During the second-round matchup, Minnfield was knocked to the ground numerous times and, at one point, had to be restrained by junior Ashley Jones.
“Basically, I’m physical,” Minnfield said. “I’ve been getting beat up on the court all my life. Just like last game. I was getting hassled, getting fouled, (but) I’m used to that. It’s really nothing to me.”
Joked Michigan coach Kevin Borseth: “She almost looks for contact, almost looking for a fight. She’s not going to let you push her around.”
But this season, it’s not just Minnfield’s demeanor that has Michigan in its first postseason tournament since 2002. Her improved shooting has made the biggest impact.
Minnfield shot a mediocre 35 percent from the field her freshman year and 29 percent last season. But with the help of assistant coach Mike Williams, extra hours in the gym and a motion offense more conducive to point guard shooting, the junior has become an offensive threat.
Minnfield averages 10 points per game this season, more than double last year’s average of four points per game.
The Wolverines are 8-1 when she scores in double figures.
“I can’t be an effective point guard if I can’t score and shoot,” Minnfield said. “I just can’t get my teammates involved, I got to create something else in my game, too.”
This season Minnfield is shooting 43 percent from the field and 41 percent from behind the arc. Her improved shooting had a big effect on her game, especially at Illinois on Feb. 24. The junior torched the Illini, pouring in 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 5-for-7 from behind the arc.
Despite a subpar performance against VCU (eight points on five shots), the point guard will need to be on top of her game tonight to give Michigan a shot at a potential Elite Eight matchup with Michigan State.
Southern Mississippi has the ability to control the tempo on both sides of the ball and Minnfield will need to keep Michigan steady against the Golden Eagles’ intense pressure, like she has all year.
“Her job is to handle it when we get pressured,” Borseth said. “She’s done a pretty good job at it.”
So. Miss. at Michigan
Matchup: So. Miss. 21-13; Michigan 18-13
When: Thursday 7 P.M.
Where: Crisler Arena