Every team has innate strengths and weaknesses. Whether or not they can harness those strong points and eliminate the weak ones is what separates good teams from great teams. For the Michigan women’s basketball team, its strength is on the defensive end.
Entering the season, the Wolverines prioritized improving defensively — even after having the second best opponents points per game in the Big Ten last season. While already a strong defensive team, emphasizing intensity has caused chaos for other teams so far this season.
“We want our identity to be on the defensive end and have intensity,” graduate guard Lauren Hansen said after Michigan’s win Tuesday. “We want it to be something that we can carry in every single game no matter who we’re playing. We’ve been having a lot of conversations about being that every single day in practice and so when the game came, we were just gonna carry it over.”
In just two games, the Wolverines have already shown that priority implemented into their performance. In Michigan’s win over Purdue Fort Wayne, the Wolverines generated 12 points off of 15 turnovers. Against Oakland those marks were even greater, as Michigan scored 26 points and forced 21 turnovers.
Showcasing growth on defense — which is already a catalyst for the Wolverines’ success — early in the game against the Golden Grizzlies, Michigan coerced multiple offensive fouls to add offensive possessions. Junior guard Jordan Hobbs forced two in the first six minutes of play alone, promptly setting the tone for the Wolverines.
“We established ourselves and set the tone on the defensive end in the first quarter and that great defense led to our ability to go and transition and transition offense,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said.
Throughout the dominant 80-39 win over the Grizzlies, it was evident that Michigan was playing with aggression. The Wolverines accumulated steals and forced offensive fouls, then made use of those turnovers with swift transition buckets.
Many of the turnovers forced by the Wolverines came from switching underneath the basket to get in front of a driving opponent. That presence under the basket allows for Michigan to take charges and force opponents to dish the ball out of the paint, and those often cause sloppy passes that turn the possession over.
As a result of forcing more turnovers, transition points become an easy pathway to build momentum throughout the game.
“When you can get a lot of transition buckets, it really makes the game a lot easier,” senior forward Cameron Williams said. “When you don’t have to come in and set up a play every time it really helps with the momentum of the game and helps you capitalize on that from the jump.”
Already seeing an increase in forced turnovers and subsequent points against Oakland from their season opener, the Wolverines are showing their ability to increase the defensive pressure.
While it’s still very early in the season and Michigan has played teams it should beat with little issues, those improvements are distinct. As the Wolverines’ opponents become more formidable, dialing up the intensity on defense to create transition offense will continue to be the Wolverines’ identity.
“I think we can turn it up even more,” Hansen said. “I think we can continue building our chemistry together on the floor. And we gotta be more physical.”
With a young team, having a consistent identity from season to season and building upon the strengths within it will help ease new players like Hansen into the program. Building chemistry through communication on the defensive end facilitates an increase in turnovers. In the first two games, Michigan has shown that improvement and utilized the efficient defense to produce offensively.
The Wolverines as a program make a point to focus on their defense. And if they want to elevate their game from a good team to a great team, honing in on that strength is key. The progress they’ve shown in their first two games will have to be arrayed through every game, though, in order to accomplish their desired growth.