This year’s Michigan women’s basketball team has been full of surprises. From lights-out 3-point shooting to steady rebounding, few could’ve predicted all of the things that have gone right for the Wolverines.
But one of the biggest surprises of them all for Michigan has been the recent play of senior forward Val Driscoll.
Entering the season, Driscoll, the team’s tallest player at 6-foot-4, was just another question mark for the Wolverines, another player who hadn’t had many opportunities to prove herself. Driscoll didn’t see the court last season and was one of a slew of Michigan players who fell victim to anterior cruciate ligament injuries.
Before that, her playing time was minimal — 61 minutes in 16 games her freshman year and 19 minutes in six games as a sophomore.
Things have changed for Driscoll this season. The Wolverines (6-3) entered the season lacking frontcourt depth, but the senior was one of the players who could provide it. Driscoll has played in all nine games and has totaled 171 minutes (averaging 19 minutes per game), nearly triple her previous high.
“You never want to watch your team struggling,” Driscoll said. “Even winning, you want to be out there helping them, supporting them and just doing it from the sidelines. Nobody wants to be in that position. Being out there on the court now is an amazing feeling.”
When junior guard Shannon Smith, the team’s leading scorer, went down with a back injury against Texas Tech in the Barclays Invitational on Nov. 29, Driscoll replaced her and made her third career start the next night against No. 13 LSU.
Despite her relative inexperience, Driscoll played perhaps the best game of her career on the big stage against the Lady Tigers. She set career highs with 11 rebounds, six blocks and 37 minutes. The Wolverines led for most of the second half and nearly pulled off the upset before losing in the final moments, 64-62.
After three years on the sidelines, Driscoll provided more than just a fifth body on the court. She grabbed key rebounds and blocked shots throughout the near upset.
“I think she started the beginning of the year giving us a good couple minutes, and a couple good minutes have progressed and progressed,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
Driscoll’s role expanded once again in Michigan’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge victory over Virginia. In her second consecutive game as a starter, Driscoll set a career high with 12 points in the Wolverines’ rout, going 6-for-6 from the field.
Smith’s imminent return means Driscoll’s role will change once more. Barnes Arico estimated that the injured guard practiced at about 75 percent Monday, moving more than she had since her injury. But Barnes Arico says Smith is still in pain, and her status for Wednesday’s game against Eastern Michigan is still undecided.
When Smith is fully healthy, Driscoll’s improved play provides intriguing options for Barnes Arico — ones she didn’t think she’d have at the beginning of the season. Not only can Driscoll help relieve Michigan’s top three guards, who each average over 34 minutes per game, but she also expands the flexibility of the Wolverines’ matchups.
“If we’re going with a smaller, quicker team, we might have to go with four guards,” Barnes Arico said. “If we’re facing a bigger team, we might have to go with two bigs. It’s nice now that we have Val playing so well that she could really give us that option.”
After three years without meaningful minutes, Michigan’s tallest player has ensured that she is no longer just a face on the sidelines.