Late in the first quarter of the No. 14 Michigan women’s basketball team’s win over Purdue last week, sophomore guard Ari Wiggins checked into the game for the first time in three outings.
Purdue had just made two free throws, and the quarter was all but over. Upon entry, Wiggins caught the inbounds pass, sped past the Boilermakers’ defenders near half court and sent a bullet of a pass into the hands of junior forward Cameron Williams in the post for a buzzer-beating layup.
Wiggins went on to make the most of her seven minutes on the court, snatching two rebounds — including one offensive board — and tallying an assist. In the process, she infused the Wolverines with energy.
Despite only playing in one of the team’s previous five games, Wiggins continued to put forth effort during practice to earn her time on the court.
“One of the things that we preach inside our program is that if you continue to work hard, and if you continue to make progress, you will get an opportunity,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after Saturday’s win over Michigan State. “And when I think about that, I think of someone like Ari Wiggins.”
Sidelined with an injury for most of her freshman season, Wiggins wasn’t able to practice much last year. Barnes Arico even said that this season is almost like a second freshman year for her due to the limited time on the court last season both in games and in practice.
This week, however, other Wolverines suffered injuries amid the usual wear-and-tear of the season and needed to limit their play time. Michigan needed quality minutes from someone off the bench, and Wiggins earned them.
“We keep track every day of practice points and how you did in practice,” Barnes Arico said. “She won those practice points two days in a row (last week) back to back, which meant she was probably winning the rebounding battle. She was probably having a ton of assists.”
Safe to say, Wiggins earned an opportunity on the court, not only against Purdue but also against the Spartans.
Saturday against Michigan State, she played 13 minutes — her career high in Big Ten play— finishing with two points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal for an overall plus-10 rating.
Her impact extended past the plays on the court. It gave fellow guards fifth-year Leigha Brown and sophomore Greta Kampschroeder much-needed breathers. By playing as a true point guard, Wiggins provides an opportunity for both to move to the wing — a position they are both more accustomed to. Kampschroeder is usually the first one off the bench to let Brown rotate over to the wing position. But Kampschroeder needs time at the wing for herself.
“What a great look it would be if Greta got off the ball a little bit and didn’t have to handle that pressure so much because she’s not really a true point guard,” Barnes Arico said. “A couple games ago we gave Ari the opportunity and she was super solid, which was awesome.”
Wiggins’ natural ability as a true point guard makes her a strong candidate to come in for Brown and Kampschroeder, but her speed is what sets her apart.
At Michigan Media Day Oct. 25, Barnes Arico put it simply: “She’s probably faster than anyone we have in our program.”
Wiggins can beat nearly any opponent down the floor on a fast break, which provides Michigan opportunities to not only convert on those fast-break opportunities, but also to set the pace of the game. The Wolverines have struggled at times this season when opponents dominate the offensive boards, limiting their control over the speed of the game. Wiggins’s speed allows them to run a tempo offense they are more comfortable with, even off the bench.
With conference play wearing on, the Wolverines will need their bench to continue to step up. Last week, Ari Wiggins answered that call.