HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. — Beat Indiana at home: check. Beat Indiana on the road: check. Beat Indiana at a neutral site: check.
Playing the Hoosiers (2-14 Big Ten, 11-19) for the third time this season, the Michigan women’s basketball team repeated its previous success against Indiana, winning 67-40 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill. in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines (10-6, 21-9) started the game hot, scoring baskets on their first four possessions, including back-to-back baskets by sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad on a short jumper off a behind-the-back pass from senior forward Nya Jordan and a layup off an offensive rebound. Elmblad would lead the team in scoring at halftime with eight points. She also gathered five rebounds in the first stanza, despite playing just 12 minutes. Her dominant play would carry over to the second half as she recorded her first-career double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds – both career highs.
“Just having more threats out there from the starting five (was key),” said senior forward Rachel Sheffer. “They played off (Nicole) – she was able to get in the paint the last couple games. Nicole being a threat (was huge). We have confidence in her to shoot the ball whenever she wants.”
Indiana called a timeout after the offensive put-back to attempt to stop Michigan’s 8-0 scoring burst, but the Wolverines would follow with two more layups to push the lead to 12-0.
Finally at the 15:21 mark, the Hoosiers got on the board with a jumper by senior forward Aulani Sinclair, but by that point, the momentum was clearly in Michigan’s favor.
While Indiana relied on jump shots, the Wolverines continued to work the shot clock down, earning quality possessions that routinely finished with a cutting player getting a close-range shot or layup. Michigan would finish with 22 points in the paint in the first half compared to just six for the Hoosiers.
Even when Michigan seemed to spend too much time of its possession away from the basket, resulting in a last-second jumper, a Wolverine was there to collect the offensive rebound and begin a new shot clock.
Such was the case in a possession spanning from 12:20 left in the first to 11:27 remaining. In this sequence, Jordan was forced to take a shot as the shot clock was about to expire. But as Michigan did throughout the first half, someone, this time senior forward Sam Arnold, collected the offensive rebound. While senior forward Rachel Sheffer missed a jumper, another offensive board was grabbed – this time by Jordan. It was on the third shot of the possession that Michigan would score, as Jordan found Sheffer alone underneath the basket for an easy layup.
For the first half, the Wolverines collected eight offensive rebounds, while outrebounding the Hoosiers, 23-15. Those eight rebounds allowed them to score eight second-chance points.
Leading the way for Michigan on the glass was Jordan, who collected 10 rebounds in the first half and 13 in the game to lead the team. She also scored eight points and dished out six assists.
“Nya’s just a name that keeps on coming up every single game because she’s becoming more and more comfortable, and more and more confident,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She was everywhere rebounding in the first half. She had ten rebounds at the half, which is incredible. That gave us a lot of our second chance opportunities.”
With a 31-21 halftime lead, it seemed the Wolverines would just need to stick to its first-half style of play to pull out the victory.
The Hoosiers, who shot just 29 percent from the field in the first half, had to rely on the 3-pointer to stay in the game. That didn’t go according to plan as they were outscored 36-19 in the second half, while shooting 25 percent in the half.
A main reason for this was that Indiana’s typical two leading scorers, Sinclair and senior guard Jasmine McGhee were limited to 16 total points on 6-for-27 shooting from the field.
“I thought we did a great job defensively tonight, Barnes Arico said. “I thought we really really did a tremendous job, whether it was zone or man, knowing where (Sinclair) was.
“We knew if we could do a good job on those two, we would be in good shape because they’ve been really doing a great job for Indiana scoring lately. That was going to be key for us winning tonight.”
The plan reversed courses immediately at the start of the second half as senior forward Kate Thompson knocked down her first 3-pointer of the game in five attempts to extend the lead.
“It was good to get Kate going,” Barnes Arico said. “Her first two shots were in and out and she became really hesitant. That’s one of the things we talk about – you got to keep shooting the ball.”
The Wolverines made just one 3-pointer in the first half, but again their consistent play on the glass made up for 1-for-7 shooting from deep.
In this stanza, however, Thompson made her first two attempts as Michigan pushed its lead to 20 points.
The switch in style worked for the Wolverines as the Hoosiers continued to give them open looks in fear of the close-range shots Michigan took full advantage of in the first half.
And as Michigan’s lead expanded, Indiana’s defense became worse, leaving open the trailing player or not rotating off screens. In transition, all it would take was an extra pass for the Wolverines to find the best shot.
And most of the time, it was Jordan, who did that.
“When she gets out in transition, she gives a dimension to our team that we really don’t have and she was able to do that tonight, Barnes Arico said. “She was able to push the ball. She had six assists; golly she had a heck of a night. She’s just a difference maker for our team.”
As the Wolverines’ lead grew to over 20 points, Barnes Arico was able to rest her three leading scorers, senior guard Jenny Ryan, Thompson and Sheffer, who combined for 25 points and 10 rebounds.
This allowed her underclassmen to get some minutes as the trio got some much-needed rest – something the team will need in order to take on fourth-seeded Michigan State on Friday.