INDIANAPOLIS — With 3:17 remaining in the first quarter Siera Thompson committed her third foul in as many minutes. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico had no choice but to take her out for the remainder of the first half of the Wolverines’ Big Ten Tournament game against Iowa.
With the junior guard on the bench, the Michigan women’s basketball team had to make do without its best defender, and the Hawkeyes capitalized. Though Iowa was held to 21 points in the first quarter, the Hawkeyes exploded for 31 in the second, putting the Wolverines in a hole they were never able to claw their way out of.
As Michigan’s No. 1 defender, Thompson is often charged with shadowing the opponent’s biggest offensive threat. Against Iowa that meant her assignment was guard Ally Disterhoft who averages 36.3 minutes and 16.9 points per game.
While guarded by Thompson in the first quarter, Disterhoft scored just two points. But with Thompson sidelined, Disterhoft made the Wolverines pay, racking up 15 points with Thompson out of the game, including 11 in the second quarter, to finish the first half with 17. Disterhoft’s hot shooting, including 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point line, spread to the rest of her teammates as well. As a team, Iowa shot 81 percent from the floor in the second quarter.
“We got some really good percentage shots,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. “You know when things are falling for you — and again (Disterhoft) made some great 3s to bring us back into this — but you know it’s kind of contagious. Shooting’s contagious and I think once you start feeling it, everybody feels it.”
Without Thompson, Michigan was not only without its top defender, but it also had to find a way to make up for her offensive output. Thompson leads the Wolverines with 151 assists on the season. Without her running the offense, Michigan — which scored 29 points in the first quarter — was unable to keep pace with Iowa, totaling just 13 points in the second frame.
“It’s funny because, early on, we asked the officials to look at it because I thought (Thompson) was getting hooked,” Barnes Arico said. “But Disterhoft did a great job of drawing attention to that and really taking advantage of that matchup and drawing fouls on Siera, and that really hurt us.”
Despite her first half struggles Thompson started the second half for the Wolverines, and her impact was immediately apparent. At first Thompson, did not resume her role of defending Disterhoft. Instead, junior forward Jillian Dunston took that role to protect Thompson from accumulating any more fouls, and senior guard Madison Ristovski slid down to help out in the post where Iowa’s size had been hurting Michigan.
“Being in the position I am, I can play one through four.” Ristovski said. “So I always have to know every single guard or post on the other team. Coach tells me I’m playing the four today or I’m playing the one, then I need to know exactly what their moves are and try to adjust during the game.”
As the game progressed to its final stages Thompson gained the freedom to be more and more aggressive, since she had not committed a foul in the second half, and she shifted back to her role as Disterhoft’s primary defender. Back in her original role, Thompson once again shut down Disterhoft, who scored just five points in the second half and finished the game with 22.
The offense was also able to get back on track with Thompson back in charge. The Wolverines were just two points shy of matching Iowa’s second half scoring total of 45 points with Thompson contributing eight points, three rebounds and four assists throughout the contest — though she eventually fouled out with 1:12 left in the game.
The second half bounce back just wasn’t enough for Michigan to overcome its second quarter hole, and Iowa finished off the win, 97-85.
“We’re at the point now, if someone comes out, other people have an opportunity to step up,” Barnes Arico said. “And we weren’t really able to take advantage of that today.”