With a daunting Big Ten schedule on the horizon, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico has emphasized the need for her team to get back to doing things “the Michigan way” — playing hard, never giving up on a play and executing all the intangibles.
In their final tune-up before the conference schedule begins this Sunday, the Wolverines did all of that and more en route to an 81-52 victory over Eastern Michigan on Monday afternoon.
Michigan was relentless on both sides of the ball, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds, forcing 27 turnovers and consistently driving the ball to the hoop.
Senior forward Cyesha Goree was the focal point of the Wolverines’ offensive attack for the third straight game. Despite being matched up with 6-foot-4 Eastern Michigan center Rachel Kehoe, Goree knocked down several contested shots in the paint as Michigan’s guards targeted her on nearly every play.
Arguably the best personification of Barnes Arico’s “Michigan way,” senior forward Nicole Elmblad set the example for executing the intangibles. In addition to her 10 points, she drew several fouls, dove for a loose ball and picked up a few key assists despite being heavily guarded under the basket.
According to Elmblad, her team has relied on those kinds of plays to recover from their recent tough losses.
“It’s effort plays, it’s loose balls,” Elmblad said. “Just kind of getting out of a little funk. … We’re going to play hard, we’re going to work hard on both ends of the court.”
The Wolverines have often relied on lights-out perimeter shooting from their guards, but in this game, it was the high-energy role players who stole the show.
Sophomore guard Danielle Williams, who earned her second straight start after exhibiting tremendous toughness both in practice and against Canisius, was all over the ball. Williams didn’t put up the scoring or rebounding numbers that she had in her previous start, but she made up for it with her aggressive style of play. Williams picked up six steals, dove for two loose balls and pressed so hard on defense that she found herself in early foul trouble. Her most memorable play came on a steal deep on the Eagles’ end of the court, followed by a layup and converted and-1.
In the areas where Williams was lacking, freshman forward and resident bench spark plug Jillian Dunston stepped up. Dunston finished the game with six rebounds, three of which came off the offensive glass.
“Both Jillian and Danielle are super high-energy players,” Barnes Arico said. “We just try to value what they bring and know that what they do is appreciated for the success of our program, even though it doesn’t show up in a stat sheet a lot of times.”
The aggression up front took most of the pressure off Michigan’s shooters, who were able to relax and knock down wide-open shots. Sophomore guard Siera Thompson put up 15 points, which included a few daring forays to the rim in addition to three 3-pointers. Freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty put on her customary scoring display off the bench, knocking down three triples on her way to 17 points.
With the victory, the Wolverines will ride a two-game winning streak into a short holiday break before they begin a grueling conference slate. And according to Barnes Arico, the last two games and the much-needed period of rest and relaxation couldn’t come at a better time.
“This is really nice to be able to go into Christmas winning two games like this,” Barnes Arico said. “And also, for some of the younger, inexperienced kids, it’s tough when they don’t get to get their feet wet. Finishing off the non-league schedule with two games they had an opportunity to get in is really nice, too.”