INDIANAPOLIS — Danielle Rauch couldn’t keep the smile off her face. She stood, in the midst of a timeout huddle, one ear perched to listen to what Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. Other players hid their excitement behind stone faces, only occasionally letting a grin out.
Not the sophomore guard. She knew the game was over. Wrapped in maize and blue and tied with a bow, over.
Because Hailey Brown just banked in a 3-point shot. The junior forward’s shot made the lead five with 19 seconds left, eliminated any chance of a Northwestern comeback. The final nail in the coffin wasn’t so different from the rest, though, as the 3-point shot spurred Michigan to a 67-59 victory over the 11th-ranked Wildcats.
The Wolverines ended the night shooting 53.8 percent from beyond the arc. In their first two games against Northwestern, they shot 26.7 percent and 30.8 percent from three, respectively. Time and time again, though, Friday’s 3-pointers acted as more than just points: they were momentum changers.
Brown ended the day with only two made 3-pointers. Her first came late in the third quarter after Dilk’s layup lodged in between the rim and the glass, forcing an inbound and taking away a clear opportunity to get an offensive rebound. But off the rebound, Brown’s 3-pointer turned sophomore guard Amy Dilk’s look of frustration into one of exaltation.
That first 3-pointer was the last of a 9-2 run, putting Michigan on top 45-41. Her second sealed the game.
“She’s an automatic 3-point shooter and has built up a lot of confidence throughout the season,” Rauch said. “She’s the girl we want to be taking that shot.”
While Brown has been a 3-point threat all season, and perhaps the only true day-in, day-out threat, in recent weeks she’s gotten a partner in crime: guard Maddie Nolan.
Despite her emergence as a scorer, the freshman still struggles with confidence. In the third quarter, she found herself wide open on the top of the arc, the entire bench rose in unison expecting a shot. There was none, and disappointed murmurs spread throughout them as they slunk back into their chairs.
“The position that she’s walked into, she’s a freshman and she didn’t think she needed to score at all so a lot of times in practice she’d pass up open shots,” senior guard Akienreh Johnson said. “… Now that she’s been shooting a lot more coach Arico’s trying to give her confidence, ‘If you’re open, shoot it.’ ”
Nolan didn’t pass up on her next opportunity, draining a corner 3-pointer to take Michigan’s first lead of the third quarter. One it would never give back.
After a brief spell on the bench due to foul trouble allowed her to recognize a flaw in Northwestern’s zone defense, she exploited the corners to great success. She ended the game 3-for-4 from downtown.
Beyond changing momentum, though, shooting the three well opens the floor for sophomore forward Naz Hillmon. When Brown and Nolan are on the court, or Johnson and Dilk when they’re feeling it, the offense goes becomes extremely difficult to stop.
“It’s definitely a game-changer,” Barnes Arico said. “(Nolan’s) confidence has grown leaps and bounds, and then (Johnson) made a big one, and (Brown) made a big one, but that definitely forces them to have to come out and play us.”
That second dimension wasn’t there against the Wildcats earlier in the season. They could focus in on Hillmon, leaving behind an offense that couldn’t score in a crowded paint.
Friday’s game reversed that, leaving Rauch and Michigan smiling.