The Michigan women’s basketball team celebrated perfection in paradise.
The Wolverines (7-0) recorded three impressive victories in the Paradise Jam tournament in the Virgin Islands over Thanksgiving weekend to win the tournament title, despite not facing a ranked team.
After taking down Prairie View A&M and Washington State, Michigan completed a tournament sweep by defeating Marquette, 71-51, maintaining its undefeated record and beginning their season with seven straight victories for just the second time in program history. The last time the Wolverines started this well was the 1999-2000 season, and this marks the best start for Michigan coach Kevin Borseth.
Against Marquette (4-3), junior guard Jenny Ryan recorded a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, and senior guard Courtney Boylan put up a game-high 16 points.
Early in the contest, Michigan surged ahead with 8-0 and 11-0 runs to go up by 14 with 12:30 left in the first half, and the Wolverines would maintain their double-digit lead for the rest of the game.
Michigan was successful in shutting down the Golden Eagles’ post players, holding them to 18 points in the paint while the Wolverines scored 34 down low.
Ryan mentioned that Marquette’s post players were similar to those of Big Ten opponents Michigan will face later this season, and she said the team did well to overcome the height and physicality of Marquette’s players.
“You can look it at as a mismatch for us, or you could look at it as possibly being a strength,” Boylan added. “We were able to bring one of their big girls out. Our big girls can shoot very well, so it played out as a positive for us.”
In the second half, many of Michigan’s reserves saw action. Junior forward Sam Arnold was a big contributor off the bench, scoring nine, and junior guard Kate Thompson and freshman guard Brenae Harris each scored six. Harris recorded her first minutes for the Wolverines by playing in all three games, and other reserves saw action for the first time all season in the tournament.
On Thursday, the Wolverines took on Prairie View A&M (1-4), and beat the Panthers, 59-53. Boylan, junior forward Rachel Sheffer and senior forward Carmen Reynolds scored in the double digits and Ryan led the team with 10 rebounds.
Michigan then routed Washington State (6-3) on Friday, 69-39. The Wolverines benefitted from the hot hands of Boylan and Reynolds, who were 6-for-11 and 3-for-3 from the field, respectively. The team shot just over 51 percent and went 9-for-16 from behind the arc.
In all 120 minutes of game play the past weekend, the Wolverines trailed for a total of 2:12.
Ryan was included on the All-Tournament Team for her contributions to the team, and Boylan’s outstanding performances were recognized as well — she was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
“The ball’s in her hands a lot at crunch time,” Borseth said. “Courtney’s efficient. She handles the ball really well, and she’s a worker. She’s relentless in being the best player she can be.”
Though Boylan’s performances were important, it was a team effort that clinched the tournament title for the Wolverines.
“I think our team became a lot closer,” Boylan said. “We found our groove as a team, and I think we finally started shooting the ball better. Our defense and rebounding were also solid.”
The Wolverines have done a great job feeding the ball into the paint and rebounding, and it’s been an emphasis all season. They aren’t a significantly tall team, but they have excelled all season overcoming height differences. In the tournament, Michigan posted 45, 30 and 29 rebounds in their three games, and averaged 28 points in the paint.
“You can get extra possessions on offensive rebounds, and usually the team that wins the rebounding battle is the one that ends up winning the game,” Ryan said.
The Wolverines kept the rebounding battle close to secure three victories and the tournament title. Borseth said he thinks the good performance at the tournament, as well as an undefeated start, have boosted the team’s confidence moving forward, and the players certainly agree.
“It feels pretty dang good to be 7-0,” Boylan said. “We had some decent starts in my four years, but nothing can compare to being undefeated, so hopefully we can keep that streak going.”