For the first 12 minutes of Sunday’s 80-48 win over Morgan State (3-5), it was more of the same for the Michigan women’s basketball team (6-1).
Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon made an easy layup underneath the basket to put the Wolverines on the board quickly. But from that point on, defense and ball security — problems that have also plagued Michigan in recent games — prevented it from jumping out to a comfortable early lead.
For the four minutes after Hillmon’s basket, the Bears converted on their offensive opportunities, scoring a quick 11 points, while the Wolverines could not get into a rhythm offensively. Morgan State consistently attempted to trap Michigan players, forcing a handful of Wolverine turnovers.
In particular, the Michigan’s bench players had trouble protecting the ball, with junior guard Priscilla Smeenge and freshman center Izabel Varejão both turning the ball over soon after entering the game at the 5:24 mark.
The Wolverines found themselves down by four more than halfway through the first quarter and decided to make a change. When sophomore guard Danielle Rauch entered the game with 4:30 to go in the first, the Michigan began to show a full-court press and a zone in the half-court, which gave Morgan State trouble offensively. The Wolverines forced a turnover on the Bears’ first possession after the defensive switch, swinging momentum in Michigan’s favor.
Soon after, a blocked shot by senior forward Kayla Robbins led to a fast-break layup, sparking a 6-2 run to end the quarter, and it looked as though the Wolverines had righted the ship.
But the Michigan’s sloppy play continued into the second quarter. Two turnovers each by sophomore guard Amy Dilk and senior guard Akienreh Johnson on the Wolverines’ first five possessions led Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to bench them for an extended period of time.
“The second quarter, me and Amy turned the ball over a lot the first couple minutes so (Barnes Arico) took us out, talked to us, let us calm down, let us sit on the bench, watch what’s going on,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it’s a different view from the bench that really helps you out.”
While Michigan struggled offensively, the Bears couldn’t take advantage. Morgan State scored just two points in the first three minutes of the quarter, missing all three of its shots from the floor and turning the ball over twice. The Bears’ third turnover of the quarter allowed junior forward Hailey Brown to find Hillmon for an and-one layup, giving the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish.
Michigan continued to force turnovers with its full-court press and committed just three of its own in the final eight minutes of the quarter, entering halftime with an eight-point lead.
“We’re all long, lengthy and quick, so our length was able to fluster them a little bit,” Johnson said. “Once you get kind of flustered, you kind of start missing on the offensive end, and then we were able to get steals. They turned the ball over, they took quick shots. We were able to get rebounds and push in transition.”
After consistently substituting players in the first half, Barnes Arico stuck with six for the majority of the third quarter. Michigan then pulled away, extending the lead to 18. Johnson led the way, scoring nine of her 16 points in the third quarter. The Wolverines scored 26 points in the third quarter after scoring just 32 in the entire first half, and turned the ball over just twice.
“We were able to get out in transition a lot and get easier buckets and not have to play in the half-court,” Barnes Arico said. “That helped us a lot in the second half.”
In the fourth quarter, with the outcome no longer in doubt and the majority of the starters on the bench, the Wolverines continued to extend the lead, cruising to their sixth win of the season against mid-major opponents.