It was only an exhibition and counts for nothing in the long run, but Michigan women’s basketball shooting guard Deja Church still managed to light up Crisler Center for the Michigan women’s basketball team Thursday night. The sophomore guard brought a tantalizing one-two punch of sensational defense and fantastic finishes on offense.
In the Wolverines’ 84-38 win against Division II Findlay, Church posted an extremely solid line in her first game as Michigan’s starter at the two, scoring 15 points on 6-for-12 shooting, dishing out 4 assists, hauling in 3 rebounds and notching two blocked shots and a steal.
While she was solid on offense, Church’s biggest highlights came on the defensive side of the floor, where she had two monstrous rejections in the opening minutes of the first quarter. After the game, Church was visibly excited when discussing her swats.
“I think that blocking the ball is a basketball player’s dream,” she said, “especially cause I’m not that tall.”
While Church may not be the tallest player on the Wolverines’ roster —she stands at just 5-foot-10— but she more than makes up for it with her heart and hustle on the court each night. Church, who is a natural shooting guard, played mostly as a point guard last season, but the departures of Katelynn Flaherty and Jillian Dunston have allowed her to step back into her comfort zone.
“It feels good,” Church said. “It’s more natural.”
Church’s comfort at the shooting guard position was evident in Thursday night’s contest. Without the added responsibility of setting the table for the offense, she was visibly more willing to drive the ball to the hoop, creating opportunities for easy buckets inside and opening the floor up for shooters like Nicole Munger.
“Everybody knows their roles, and I feel like Michigan has been missing a driving guard,” Church said. “I feel like that’s where I can come in and change the look for us.”
Now with a year of experience under her belt, Church has become a bigger leader on the court and in the locker room. Despite being a mentor to the freshmen on the team, she feels that she herself is still growing into her role.
“Even now, I’m still learning from the upperclassmen,” she said.
While Church is learning from her own veteran teammates, she’s playing the role of teacher to five-star freshman point guard Amy Dilk to help her learn the ropes of running the offense, which the freshman has greatly appreciated.
“With her knowledge being a PG as a freshman, she’s been in the same shoes I’ve been in,” Dilk said.
However, Church made sure to note that she truly hasn’t needed to do much to instruct Dilk and her sensational talent.
“I’m not sure that she needs much of my help,” she joked.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes-Arico also praised Church after the game, again commenting on the versatility of the sophomore when discussing her play.
“She can affect the game in so many ways, and I thought tonight we were able to see her do that on both the offensive and defensive end,” Barnes-Arico said.
If Church continues to show this prowess in the regular season, she should be a key contributor on a Wolverine team with their eyes on a second-consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.