The Michigan women’s basketball team is 8-1 this year — the best start since Kevin Borseth took the reigns in 2007 and the program’s best start in nine years. At this point last season, the Wolverines were 5-4, which begs the question: what happened in a year?
According to Borseth it’s business as usual — almost.
Michigan didn’t pull in a particularly stellar recruiting class and it would be irresponsible to accuse the program of putting anything in the team’s water cooler. Michigan lost Veronica Hicks, it’s former MVP, and yet it has been more successful than it was last year. Perhaps it’s more productive to consider what hasn’t changed since the end of last season to learn what has.
Borseth insists that his main focus has been — and will always be — teaching his team how to play effective defense.
“Defense is something you can rely on if your offense is not producing, and in fact defense has gotten us offensive production in transition,” Borseth said. “Things we’re not planning to change are taking care of the ball on offense, not allowing our opponents to get easy looks inside and creating turnovers with our defense.
“It’s that way now, and it hasn’t changed in four years. That’s my vision for this team now and 30 years from now. That’s never going to change.”
So perhaps that has changed: he finally got his team to buy into his defensive dogma.
Senior forward Carmen Reynolds, a player who prides herself on her ability to attack the rim, is one of the many players convinced of the seemingly backward notion that the best offense is a good defense.
“We’ve had games like everyone else where we couldn’t get the shots we wanted to fall,” Reynolds said. “Those are the times we really have to look to the defense to get stops. If we can’t always answer offensively, we’ve now figured out that we can find ways to make it hard for the other team to score too. It’s great to be able to fall back on solid defense.”
Though these may seem like the average mumblings of your run-of-the mill round-ball jockey, they are indeed much more than words. Look back to the away game against Seton Hall two weeks ago. The Wolverines shot 13-for-49 from the field and 3-for-22 from the 3-point range, yet they still managed to squeak by with the win, 51-47. The Pirates had better shooting percentages, they were able to get more shots off than Michigan and they had home-court advantage.
What Borseth and his team proved in that game is that there is much more to winning a game than the ability to put points on the board.
The areas Seton Hall didn’t measure up were in rebounds, fouls and steals. The Wolverines had eight more boards, two more steals and 14 less fouls than the Pirates. The steals, rebounds, and lack of fouls resulted from Michigan’s effective help defense and they gave the Wolverines the two possessions to clinch the win.
In that game, defense alone won it for the Wolverines. But Borseth knows that his current team still has its share of weaknesses, and he is constantly looking at different options within his program to bring Michigan to its pinnacle defensive ability.
“Size and athleticism are always a concern at the level we play at,” Borseth said. “When you have size and athleticism you can stop penetration and still get the rebound — two things we’ve struggled with in the past but that we’re looking to improve.
“We also need to get some other kids off the bench who can give us some more athleticism and speed. If we could get those guys acclimated a little more, they could give us a different look and make us more effective defensively.”