Before the start of the season, Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico said size was going to be her squad’s biggest concern.
So you can imagine the nightmare when Pittsburgh’s (2-2 overall) 6-foot-11 redshirt freshman center, Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson, came to town. Anderson holds the title for the world’s tallest teenager.
The Jamaica native usually starts for the Panthers, but against Michigan (4-2), she came off the bench, which allowed the Wolverines to jump out to a fast 4-0 start from a pair of baskets from junior forward Cyesha Goree.
In response, Pittsburgh turned to its secret weapon, and everyone noticed the minute Anderson checked into the game. Anderson is over a foot taller than the Wolverines’ starting backcourt and stands seven inches above Michigan’s tallest player, 6-foot-4 senior Val Driscoll. Her presence, though, didn’t faze the Wolverines, who went on to beat Pittsburgh, 83-75, for their third straight win.
When Anderson first checked in, it took Michigan a few minutes to get acclimated to matching up against such a big player. Fifteen seconds after Anderson entered the game, she had an easy layup for the Panthers’ first points of the night. But despite the unbalanced matchup in the paint, the Wolverines were eventually able to find some offense down low, even when Anderson was on the court.
“I just had to get out and run more, run and get out in transition and try to get my points,” said junior forward Cyesha Goree. “(On defense) I looked to take away her strength, my guards helping to dig in so she felt doubled, forcing her to kick it back out.”
Anderson’s other-worldly size has plagued her with knee troubles, and it shows when she’s on the court. In transition, she is usually strides behind her teammates and requires more bench time than others. Michigan used the delay to attack the paint early in the possession. But once Anderson got back on defense, the Wolverines typically stuck with working the perimeter.
“I thought we did a tremendous job tonight of making Bubbles try to come out on ball screens,” Barnes Arico said. “She wasn’t really leaving the paint, so we took advantage with our outside shot.”
Anderson found herself on the bench late in the first half, but two quick baskets from Goree, followed by foul trouble for Panther forward Asia Logan, forced Pittsburgh coach Suzie McConnell-Serio to turn to her redshirt freshman earlier than she wanted.
“I don’t know many women that are 6-foot-11,” Barnes Arico said. “And any time she got deep in the paint, we knew we were going to be in trouble, but I thought Val Driscoll did an outstanding job on her in the first half.”
To start the second half for Michigan, freshman guard Siera Thompson drained a 3-pointer from the right side. A quick Panther turnover immediately after gave the ball to Goree who hit an uncontested bank shot from the paint. McConnell-Serio turned to her bench once again, as Goree made the basket and motioned for Anderson to check into the game. On Anderson’s first possession, she drew a quick foul from Goree and hit an easy shot over her after the inbounds pass.
Anderson’s presence for Pittsburgh is undeniable and her ceiling is extremely high, but her early production on the stat sheet has been limited because of her shorter minutes. She finished Wednesday’s loss with 12 points and five rebounds, just around averages nine-points and four-and-a-half-rebounds.
“It was a challenge and you look at her and you’re like ‘wow she’s tall,’ ” said junior guard Nicole Elmblad. “She was able to finish a lot on us and a couple times she did stuff on us that we didn’t like, but for the most part I thought we did a pretty good job of boxing her out on the offensive end.”
Added Barnes Arico: “We tried to limit her touches, and we tried to double her as best as we could. Overall, I thought we did a very decent job on her. We made her turn the ball over a little bit, and we got her into foul trouble, which I thought helped us as well.”
In the end, the Wolverines’ starting frontcourt, Goree and Elmblad, won the battle, generating just enough offensive and defensive power down low to win the game. The two finished with 10 and 19 points, respectively. Elmblad matched her career high in points and also added six rebounds.
A third-straight win was big for Michigan, but playing against the world’s tallest teenager will be memorable for years to come.