EVANSTON — Down nine midway through the second quarter, and with sloppy play preventing any sort of rhythm, the Michigan women’s basketball team needed a spark.

Amy Dilk had been at the forefront of the Wolverines’ ugly first quarter. After turning the ball over twice in the first two minutes of the game, it looked like it might be a lost night for the sophomore guard. But rather than letting her work out the kinks on the court, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico took her out four minutes into the game and talked to her. And the message resonated.

“She knows I can put more effort than what I’m putting in,” Dilk said. “I need to be more dialed in from the start and that’s obviously on me. Basically I just need to play harder.”

With 6:21 left in the second quarter, Dilk saw her chance to be that spark. She poked the ball out of Northwestern guard Lindsey Pulliam’s hands at the 3-point line, and as it was rolling out of bounds, Dilk dove to the floor to save it. The Wolverines called a timeout to keep possession, and despite the nine-point deficit, they were fired up.

“I think I owed it to my team to get some hustle plays, and I think I got some tonight,” Dilk said. “Obviously, when any of our teammates dive on the floor, it brings the momentum and energy up on the bench, on the court. So, just being able to do that and bringing the momentum up was huge for us.”

While Michigan’s play improved out of the timeout, it couldn’t overcome its first-quarter struggles, leading to an 81-73 loss.

But Dilk wouldn’t let the Wolverines go down so easily. At the top of a 2-3 zone, she continued to give the Wildcats trouble, deflecting passes and forcing Northwestern to reset its offense and settle for tough shots. She logged three steals in the quarter.

Offensively, she settled down. While the Wildcats continued to press, Dilk didn’t try to force passes upcourt to avoid it. Instead, she trusted her ability as a ball handler and only passed the ball when she was stifled by Northwestern defenders.

As Dilk’s play improved, so did Michigan’s. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. After her steal, the Wolverines grabbed a one-point lead with a 16-6 run — during which Dilk scored four points and assisted on the go-ahead basket — but they couldn’t extend it any further, leaving the door open for the Wildcats.

“I thought that she just started to … really take care of the ball a lot better and handle pressure a lot better,” Barnes Arico said. “She also moved extremely well without the ball and was making some cuts and … making herself available and finish plays around the rim.”

In the third quarter, Dilk showed no signs of slowing down. She continued to give the Wildcats problems defensively, and offensively, she only improved. When Dilk is at her best, she is driving with confidence and going up strong, qualities on full display Thursday night. 

But the Wolverines struggled from the floor in the third — shooting just 4-of-14 and missing layups and open 3-pointers — and Northwestern got hot, shooting over 50 percent. Dilk gave Michigan much-needed baskets and kept them in the game, scoring eight of her 15 points in the third, and the Wolverines led with 2:36 left. Though, the Wildcats ended the quarter on a 9-2 run, and there wasn’t much Dilk could do to keep the game from slipping away. 

“She’s such a great passer that as soon as you bring through two or three at her, she’s dropping it off to me, or dropping it off to (freshman center Izabel Varejão),” sophomore forward Naz Hillmon said. “She’s very unselfish, but it does help us a lot when she’s able to get into the paint and get those buckets.”

Dilk got those buckets, but the rest of the Wolverines couldn’t follow suit.

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