EAST LANSING — Amy Dilk, while sinking another free throw, looked over to the bench and smirked. It was her game, her court, her win.
The sophomore guard scored nine of the last 10 points for the Michigan women’s basketball team, all from the charity stripe, on her way to lead the Wolverines to a 65-57 victory over Michigan State.
“I’ve been struggling from the line this year in the Big Ten conference,” Dilk said. “They probably wanted to foul me, and at that point, I wanted them to foul me. So seeing the ball go in twice about two or three times in a row as a player just feels good, knowing that you’ve kind of gotten over that slump.”
The beginning of the game told a much different story, though.
Just two minutes in, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico stood, speechless — her mouth agape, arms to the side. She had just spoken with Dilk to try and jumpstart her after a dismal first three minutes that saw two turnovers and no points.
And there, directly in front of Barnes Arico, Dilk turned the ball over in the backcourt, giving the Spartans two easy points.
Barnes Arico, normally animated on the sideline, barely moved as she watched the guard move up the court a second time. The rest of the quarter crept by, with neither team finding its footing offensively, and every time a Michigan player went to the foul line, Barnes Arico waved Dilk and freshman guard Maddie Nolan over.
“I think it’s just a little bit of jitters, and once we got that first bucket in, it was fine,” Dilk said. “(Barnes Arico) was just talking to me about what she sees out there to relate to my team, whether that’s (sophomore forward Naz Hillmon) slipping. The biggest thing was the two-man game. They couldn’t guard it in the first half, and that’s what we kept going back to.”
In the second quarter, Dilk finally dissected the defense, and along with Hillmon, spurred on the Wolverine offense to an explosive second quarter. Finishing the first half, Dilk was halfway to a triple-double — tallying five points, five rebounds and five assists.
But when the second half started, the offensive troubles returned and none of the Michigan players managed to find success, with Dilk turning the ball over four times and getting into foul trouble. Even when she got to the line, she would always go 1-for-2, a perpetual 50-percent shooter.
So as the time wound down, the Spartans focused their efforts on fouling Dilk.
“That’s a lot of growth, in a period of three quarters to the fourth quarter,” Hillmon said. “I think she knew what she needed to do. She really locked in on that. Her being our primary ballhandler, she knew that she had to get us into something. … She knew it was crunch time, and she flipped the switch.”
Outside of Dilk’s fourth-quarter numbers, Michigan shot an abysmal 55 percent from the free throw line. Dilk — all the momentum on Michigan State’s side, the crowd smelling a collapse, the Wolverines fearing one — shot 9-for-10.
Despite earlier struggles, despite a stop-and-go game with 54 fouls, despite teammates fouling out, it was Amy Dilk’s game.
In the last five minutes, Dilk had ice in her veins.