Kim Barnes Arico finally relaxed.
“Woo!” the first-year Michigan women’s basketball head coach said at the start of her press conference following Michigan’s 70-62 victory over Detroit at Crisler Center in Barnes Arico’s debut. After an exhausting back-and-forth second half, she took a deep breath.
The Wolverines got off to a hot start against the Titans thanks to senior guards Jenny Ryan and Kate Thompson and senior forward Rachel Sheffer. The trio combined for 52 points, with 18 apiece from Thompson and Ryan — both career highs — and 16 by Sheffer to go along with a career-high 13 rebounds for her third career double-double.
“You never know who’s going to produce on a given night,” Ryan said. “Sometimes your starters are going to have to carry you. Tonight, our scorers stepped up big.”
The senior trio scored Michigan’s first 12 points before sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad added a basket of her own at the 15:48 mark to make the score 14-6 and cause the Titans to call their first timeout.
While the Wolverines have had a balanced scoring attack, getting easy short shots from underneath the basket, Detroit relied on 3-pointers in the first half. The Titans kept themselves in the game due to four three-pointers by sophomore guard Audrey Matteson, the last of which cut the lead to seven. That was the closest Detroit would make the game in the first half.
Following the basket, Michigan went on a 13-2 run to lead by 18, its biggest lead of the game. All 13 of the points in that stretch were scored by the same trio of seniors, including six points by Ryan on two 3-pointers.
After being silenced in the first half with only two points, Detroit sophomore forward Shareta Brown opened up the second half with five points – including a 3-point play to cut the Wolverines’ lead to 38-30. Brown led the Titans with 19 points including 17 in the second half, along with eight rebounds.
“I knew tonight would be a tough task for us, just because they are athletic and are a really strong rebounding team,” Barnes Arico said. “So it was interesting to see how we would handle their pressure, and how we would match their rebounding as well as their inside presence with Shareta Brown and Yar Shayov.”
Barnes Arico saw how arduous that task was after Brown’s second basket in consecutive possessions to start the second half. After another basket by Detroit to cut the lead six, Jenny Ryan got the Wolverines on the second half scoreboard with a basket to halt the 7-0 spurt by the Titans.
From that point forward, the two squads traded baskets, with the Titans continuously crashing the boards, piling up 21 defensive and 15 offensive rebounds. In comparison, the Wolverines managed 33 rebounds, but only five on offense.
“Our No. 1 concern on the year is our rebounding,” Barnes Arico said. “That’s something we focus on all the time in practice. I think we did it well in the first half. I think when we ran out of gas, a lot of their second chances in the second half were off of (Brown’s) misses.”
Yet, with no run bigger than five points in the second half, Michigan was able to limit the damage from Detroit out-shooting them and managed to not let the Titans get within five points of the lead.
The last time the Titans got within that margin was with 34 seconds remaining to make the score 66-61, but sophomore guard Brenae Harris and freshman guard Madison Ristovski each made a pair of free throws to put the game away and earn Barnes Arico her first win at Michigan.
“I was proud of the way we finished up. I mean, we could have fallen apart,” Barnes Arico said. “We kept making big plays or free throws down the stretch. I’m pleased, and I’m excited to have victory number one at home.”