The Michigan women’s basketball team’s is off to its best start in program history.
On Thursday, the Wolverines beat Illinois State, their 11th win in 13 games.
Michigan went up 9-7 early in the first half and never relinquished its lead. The Wolverines led by as many as 20 points and went on to beat Illinois State, 76-59.
On her birthday, junior guard Jenny Ryan tied the program record for most assists in a game with 12. Junior forward Rachel Sheffer scored a career-high 25 points. Quite a day for the team, and they don’t plan on stopping.
Sheffer’s 25 points led Michigan (11-2) in scoring, and senior guard Courtney Boylan and junior forward Sam Arnold broke into double digits, putting up 14 and 12 points, respectively.
The 25 points for Sheffer came from outstanding shooting, going 10-of-12 from the floor and 3-of-4 from beyond the arc against the Redbirds (5-6). She had 19 points before she drained two 3-pointers late in the second half to set her career high.
“(Sheffer) was phenomenal today,” Ryan said. “I think she just had her rhythm, and when Rachel has her rhythm she’s pretty much unstoppable. Both from inside and out she was really feeling it, and she started out great which sparked our team, which let everyone get a little bit comfortable and confident.”
The confidence was evident as well in the rest of the team’s performance. Ryan was a significant contributor across the board, with five points, a team-high four steals and two blocks.
But her record-tying 12 assists stood out.
Sheffer credits Ryan for most of her points, saying Ryan “does the hard part” by finding her in the post and dishing the ball to other players to score.
Boylan noted Ryan’s vital contributions on both offense and defense.
“(Ryan) always is doing anything that she can to help our team win,” Boylan said. “She always finds a way to help us win and always is getting steals. She’s such a huge reason why this team has done so well and why the team’s winning.”
The bench contributed 28 points and was also a significant reason why the Wolverines pulled out the win. Arnold came off the bench and outscored the entire Redbirds bench. Freshman guard Brenae Harris and junior forward Kate Thompson had four rebounds each, helping the Wolverines out-rebound Illinois State, 33-23.
Players like Arnold and Thompson have seen more playing time over the past few games. Michigan will rely on them more as they enter Big Ten play.
“They’ve always been great players,” Ryan said. “I think confidence comes with experience, and they’re now getting the experience with confidence coming. We need them to produce and provide us a spark.”
Now that the Wolverines have completed their non-conference schedule with a sterling 11-2 record, they hope to continue their winning ways as they open conference play against Illinois on Dec. 30.
Michigan coach Kevin Borseth was impressed with the team’s smart play on Thursday and noted that the Wolverines will have to keep putting in a solid effort every night if they want to win games in the Big Ten.
“There are no easy games in the Big Ten,” Borseth said.
The players are now turning their focus on Michigan’s primary goal — winning a Big Ten championship.
“Our ultimate goal is to win the Big Ten.” Boylan said. “We’re just looking to compete against (Big Ten) teams and come out with a championship at the end of the season.”
As for going 11-2?
“It feels great,” Boylan said. “It’s really cool to be a part of something like that, a part of history. For now, we hold the record, but we have to use that going in to Big Ten season. That’s the most crucial part of the season.”