Shannon Smith glided to the basket, preparing to take a contested layup.
While she approached her target, she smoothly whipped the ball behind her back and then switched hands once again when the ball was back in front of her, all in a single motion. The junior guard absorbed the contact, made the layup and the ensuing free throw to give the Michigan women’s basketball team an early 7-5 lead over Stony Brook.
As evidenced by Smith’s layup, the Wolverines took advantage of their talent over the Seawolves (13-3 America East, 24-8 overall) in their WNIT opening-round victory. A 13-2 run to begin the second half gave the Wolverines a 21-point lead and allowed them to finish off the 86-48 win with ease.
Michigan dominated in the second half, controlling all facets of the game and driving itself to victory. Offensively, the Wolverines were most effective when everyone was involved equally. In the run to open up the second half, four different players scored.
Despite the talent differential, Stony Brook stayed in the game early by forcing Michigan turnovers. The Wolverines (8-8 Big Ten, 18-13 overall) threatened to pull away on multiple occasions, but they were often thwarted by careless passes — perhaps the result of rust from going more than a week without a game.
“We came out and we played hard initially, but we really didn’t play smart,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
Michigan accumulated 10 turnovers by the break but still managed to lead 38-26. The Wolverines made up for the early miscues by out-rebounding the Seawolves, 23-15, in the first half.
Stony Brook’s defense crumbled in the second half, though. Once Michigan expanded its lead, the Seawolves never came close to narrowing the gap. The Wolverines committed just four turnovers after the break and extended their lead to 30 when freshman guard Paige Rakers drained a 3-pointer with 7:23 left in the game.
“Halftime we kind of got it together, told everyone, ‘Listen, calm down, we got this,’ and kind of came out and started playing like us,” said sophomore guard Madison Ristovski.
Michigan dominated every facet of the game once it started to pour it on. Smith — who averaged 3.1 assists per game during the regular season — racked up a career-high 13 assists, finding open players all over the court. After her final dish on another Rakers 3-pointer, Smith pumped her arm in celebration at her feat. She also tacked on 13 points before being pulled with just over four minutes left in the game. Her points-assist double-double was the first of its kind for a Wolverine since 2001.
Freshman guard Siera Thompson led the Wolverines with 17 points in the blowout.
Despite the easy postseason victory, Michigan feels like it accomplished little. At the end of the game, a look to the rafters showed what the team still hasn’t achieved. There isn’t a single women’s basketball banner hanging in Crisler Center. The Wolverines hope to get one step closer to fixing that when Duquesne visits Monday night.
“We want to go and we want to win that championship,” Barnes Arico said. “Through the years, the teams that have done really well in the WNIT have gone on to be really good NCAA Tournament teams. So that’s our goal right now.”