With five players unavailable, the Michigan women’s basketball team was left with eight eligible players in its first conference game, limiting coach Kim Barnes Arico’s rotation. 

While the team was unable to confirm why five underclassmen were absent, the starting five led the Wolverines to dominate Wisconsin, 92-49.

The starting five, which includes Leigha Brown, Hailey Brown, Akienreh Johnson, Naz Hillmon and Amy Dilk, combined for 84 points, with eight points coming from junior forward Emily Kiser who played her first game after dealing with an ankle injury. 

Leigha Brown led the team with 36 minutes played, and the other four starters played for at least 27 minutes. Michigan never showed signs of slowing down throughout the game. The team led by 21 points at halftime and would finish with a 43 point lead at the final buzzer. 

“The big talk this week is we’re down numbers,” Dilk said. “We need to come together and have unity. Everyone just brought a factor of a game that they needed to bring. They brought the energy.”

The Wolverines were missing key three-point shooters — sophomore guard Maddie Nolan and sophomore guard Michelle Sidor — who are 6-for-13 and 7-for-14 respectively from behind the arc. Michigan only made seven 3-pointers against Wisconsin. The Wolverines have made 41 of 101 attempts this season. Both Nolan and Sidor have come off the bench to relieve starters, and both players have averaged more than 17 minutes per game this season.  

A key part of the dominance over Wisconsin was the Wolverine’s ability to rebound. Despite missing Nolan, who is second on the team in total rebounds, Michigan finished with 21 more rebounds than Wisconsin, who had the second-highest rebounding margin in the conference. Junior forward Hillmon led the team with 11 rebounds on her way to scoring 22 points. 

Hillmon’s ability to dominate in the paint has been key to the success of the Wolverines thus far. She is a skilled rebounder, leading the team with 46 points, and is a reliable part of the team’s defense. Hillmon’s snags turned into points, and Michigan outpaced Wisconsin 24-3 in second chance points. 

“One of our top keys of the game was to box them out and get the rebounds,” Dilk said. “Coach said, ‘We have bigger guards, so guards need to go in there and rebound’ and that’s what I was trying to focus on today and (Johnson) and Leigha got in there too.” 

While the Wolverines have a deep, talented roster, the win over Wisconsin demonstrated that the starting rotation is solid enough to win games on its own. 

Michigan’s next game is against No. 15 Northwestern, who will be the second-ranked team the Wolverines will face. With Barnes Arico “not exactly sure” when the five unavailable players will be able to return, the starting five will have to step up again. 

“(Northwestern) will definitely be a challenge … with maybe not our full complement of players available,” said Barnes Arico.

If Michigan’s defense and rebounding has another great game against Northwestern, Barnes Arico may not need the entire rotation to beat one of the top teams in the country. If not, however, the Wolverines risk their first loss. 

With the Northwestern game taking place three days after the Wisconsin game on Jan. 3, Barnes Arico and staff will have to manage tired players and their potential for injury against a contender for the Big Ten Championship. 

The Wolverines have their work cut out for them.