The Michigan women’s basketball team has earned some tight wins this season, but none compare to the challenge that lies ahead.
The Wolverines (7-0) will take the road to face No. 6 Maryland (7-0) in their Big Ten-ACC Challenge game on Wednesday.
This is the first true test for Michigan, which has yet to face a ranked opponent all season. The Wolverines’ toughest win came against Florida in their season opener, when they pulled out a three-point victory on the road.
Leading Michigan into College Park, Md. is senior guard Courtney Boylan, who averages 15 points and five rebounds per game, and junior forward Rachel Sheffer, who averages 11.6 points per game. Junior guard Jenny Ryan is coming off an excellent tournament performance in the Virgin Islands, posting a double-double against Marquette. She currently leads the team with six rebounds per game.
Rebounding has been a huge focus for the Wolverines this season, and it’s a big reason for their early season success. So far, Michigan is averaging roughly six more rebounds per game than it did last season.
“Rebounding has been the biggest significant change in what we’ve done in the past four years,” said Michigan coach Kevin Borseth. “Our perspective on rebounding has changed — we block out. We spend every day blocking out.”
Michigan has outrebounded its opponents in five of its seven games this year. Against Maryland, the Wolverines will have their work cut out for them on the boards.
It’s what the Terrapins are known for.
This season, Maryland is averaging 20 more rebounds a game than its opponents. Tianna Hawkins, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, leads the team in rebounding with 10 per game. Michigan will look to limit Hawkins and Maryland’s seven other 6-foot players on the boards to stay competitive.
“I think it’s going to be the rebounding battle that will be the deciding factor,” Ryan said. “They get offensive rebounds, that’s what Maryland is known for. Our ability to negate that and cut down their rebounds makes our chances that much better. If you look at the stats at the end of the game, whichever way (rebounding) goes will be a big factor.”
Borseth said that limiting Maryland’s offensive and defensive rebounds will be a way to keep the score close.
“They want to put everything down around the basket,” Borseth said. “They want to rebound, they want to get down the court, shoot it and send five people to the offensive glass and get it, and they can pretty much do it every time they want to.”
Maryland is seventh in the nation in points per game and scored 114 points in its last game against California State Bakersfield. And a lot of its baskets came off second-chance opportunities — the team averages 16.3 offensive rebounds per game. This has allowed the Terrapins to use the clock to extend their offensive possessions and wear out an opponent’s defense.
The Wolverines will look to contain the Terrapins’ shooting and focus on improving their shot selection, as well.
“It’s definitely going to be on our end to minimize (scoring),” Ryan said. “Since they are such a high scoring team and that’s what they’re known for, at the same time, we’re going to have to score. It’s not going to be one of these games when you can get away with scoring 50 points. We’re going to have to be solid on both ends of the floor.”
Michigan’s offense will need to help out its defense by taking smart shots and utilizing possessions to its advantage.
“If we make a shot, they have to take it out of bounds and that eliminates their transition game,” Ryan said. “And that’s going to be a major thing, using the shot clock to our advantage to minimize their possessions and make the most out of our possessions.”