Junior guard Danielle Rauch stretched her arms to put a finger tip on Tennessee’s inbound bounce. The Lady Vols, struggling to gain momentum, were halted once again by Rauch’s tenacious efforts.
Rauch is a rotational player for Michigan. Averaging 15 minutes and 1.9 points a game, her contributions are often left off the box score. In the absence of junior guard Amy Dilk, who is out because of a medical issue, Rauch was given an opportunity to step up — and she took it, helping lead the Wolverines to a 70-55 win over 3-seed Tennessee.
In the first quarter, Rauch earned three defensive rebounds and one steal. Early on in the game, when neither team owned the momentum, Rauch continued to fight for the ball. Sitting at 5-foot-8, she’s usually one of the smallest players on the court. It’s Rauch’s energy and enthusiasm that gives her a few extra inches over her opponents.
“That’s what brings her a long, her energy,” junior forward Naz Hillmon said. “Obviously she’s not the biggest on the court, especially tonight. She does anything that she can.”
Rauch’s defensive efforts put a fire in the Wolverines. Her ability to find Hillmon and keep the ball away from the defenders allowed Michigan to maintain possession. A player that doesn’t find herself in the stats sheet too often, Rauch’s efforts continued throughout the night.
Early in the second quarter off an inbound pass, Rauch threw the ball high over the Lady Vols’ defenders and found a lone junior guard Leigha Brown. Brown ultimately got fouled and scored from the line, but Rauch’s vision enabled the crucial scoring play.
It didn’t stop there.
With four minutes remaining in the game and the Wolverines up by 10, Rauch put a dagger in Tennessee’s hopes of getting back into the game. After playing the ball through the middle, Brown found an open Rauch in the left corner. Knocking down the 3-pointer, she killed the Lady Vols’ momentum.
“She got her hand on a couple balls when the other team was penetrating,” Hillmon said. “(She) knocked down a huge three. Got me the ball. She is the oppinimty of trying to do everything and anything to make our team succeed.”
Rauch’s defensive efforts and ability to get the ball to her teammates gave Michigan the edge. A deserving performance for a player deemed as the “hardest worker” on the court. Her name isn’t called often and it took unusual circumstances to do so. When she isn’t on the court, Rauch is running up and down the sideline. Dancing and cheering on her teammates, she shows her character.
“In the last eight games, she may have played 16 minutes leading up to the NCAA tournament,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Her number was called and she has been ready. As a coach, that’s the greatest reward ever.”
Rauch ended the night with five points, six rebounds and five steals. Dilk’s likeness to join the team in San Antonio is unknown. Performances like against Tennessee can catapult Rauch to reach new highs on the court. As Michigan reaches its first Sweet Sixteen in program history, its career games like Rauch’s that give them momentum come Saturday.