Last season, Izabel Varejão started in just one game for the Michigan women’s basketball team despite appearing in all 32 as a consistent sixth woman. From the beginning to the end of the season, Varejão showed tremendous growth — in skill and in playing time.
And this season, that playing time could grow even more, since the graduation of forward Kayla Robbins leaves a door open for the Wolverines to fill the one open hole in their starting lineup.
Varejão could be the one to fill that hole.
The Daily breaks down some film to showcase why this could be Varejão’s breakout season.
First of all, Varejão is tall. Standing at 6-foot-4, she towers over most guards in the Big Ten. For reference, the average height for a NCAA Division I women’s basketball player is 5-foot-6 according to NCSA.
For Varejão, her height isn’t flashy, but it works to her advantage in subtle ways.
Here against Michigan State, the Spartan guard Taryn McCutcheon pulls up short in favor of the layup she could have had. With Varejão in the low-post, there is little chance guards are going to go one-on-one against her for layups. Varejão doesn’t have to showcase her height with crowd-pleasing swatted shots, all she has to do is establish her low post presence.
Varejão is not afraid to attack the boards. Playing mainly in the low post and being 6-foot-4 gives her an advantage over almost all her opposition. She’s also a strong player willing to fight for rebounds.
After a failed layup attempt here, Varejão battles on the boards with Notre Dame guards. She retrieves her own miss and puts the ball in, drawing a foul for the and-one
In this clip, Varejão barrels down the lane after a missed layup from senior guard Akienreh Johnson. She rebounds the ball and puts it back up for a layup, again drawing a foul for the and-one.
Varejão’s rebounding, especially in the offensive end, makes her dangerous for other teams. They have to worry about junior forward Naz Hillmon and Johnson’s strong driving capabilities, not to mention junior guard Amy Dilk and senior forward Haily Browns’ powerful perimeter shooting — and then have to turn around and defend a miss against Varejão’s towering frame.
Varejão is not going to be the Wolverines’ leading scorer — that’s just not her role on a team with Hillmon. Instead, Varejão thrives in her role of being a team player. She recognizes her teammates’ strengths and continuously capitalizes on them. Whether she’s rebounding, dishing out assists or battling in the low post — when given the chance, Varejão dominates her role.
Varejão’s game awareness is highlighted here, as she gets a pass into the low post from then-sophomore guard Danielle Rauch and immediately fires it back out to Dilk for a 3-point assist.
Instead of forcing an inefficient low-post move, Varejão kicks it out to Dilk. Dilk connects for the three and draws the foul for an and-one.
Varejão also works well with Hillmon, Michigan’s best player. Playing fluidly with Hillmon, who stands at 6-foot-2, adds another layer of depth to the Wolverines’ offense. Having to deal with two power players in the post makes it difficult for opponents to guard Michigan.
With a flash to the high post, Varejão gets the ball, turns and fires a pass down to the low post, where Hillmon is cutting for an easy layup. This is the type of dynamic play that, when it works, makes the pair unbeatable.
Overall, Varejão brings multiple positives to the Wolverines, both offensively and defensively. But earning the starting role will still be challenging.
Michigan added freshman forward Cameron Williams — the No. 30 recruit in the country according to ESPN — to the mix this season. Williams is 6-foot-3 and fellow freshman forward Whitney Sollom is 6-foot-4. Height alone is not going to get Varejão into the starting lineup.
Varejão will instead have to rely on the skills she built up her first year in Ann Arbor — her fluid passing and chemistry with Hillmon — while limiting the foul trouble and free-throw woes that plagued her. Should she do that, though, it’ll be hard to keep her off the court.