With a 20-point lead and three seconds remaining in the first half, Michigan should have been content to simply inbound the ball, let time expire and head to the locker room with confidence and a comfortable lead.
Instead, sophomore guard Deja Church took the pass, dribbled a few times and heaved a shot from her own 3-point line as time expired. To everyone’s surprise, it went in.
For the Wolverines (4-0), their 70-54 trouncing of No. 21 Missouri (3-2) Friday night in their first round game of the Gulf Coast Showcase was never in question. After jumping out to an early 9-0 lead, Michigan never allowed the Tigers to claw back into the game, holding them to a first-half field-goal percentage of a mere 17.2 percent, while shooting 44.8 percent from the itself. With a 23-point halftime lead, the Wolverines went on cruise control the rest of the way.
“I thought we had a tremendous start,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I thought our defense was incredible in the first half — some of the best defense that we’ve ever played — and our rebounding. … So I thought we defended, I thought we rebounded and it really helped us to build that lead. And down the stretch I think we tried to get some people in, tried to get some people rest and so it is indicative (of our performance).”
In a game in which Michigan’s two leading scorers, senior center Hallie Thome (18.5 points per game) and freshman forward Naz Hillmon (15 points per game), combined for only 18 points, the Wolverines needed other players to step in.
As Barnes Arico praised her team’s balance and noted it to be what she believes is the Wolverines’ biggest strength this season, Church’s performance stood out.
“I thought that was some of the best basketball (Church has) ever played, and I challenge Deja with that all the time,” Barnes Arico said. “I wasn’t sure in practice if she was ready for it and tonight she came out and she was definitely locked in and definitely ready for it. I mean sometimes we forget Deja’s still a sophomore, and she’s still learning and she’s still growing, but I think tonight was really a step in the right direction.”
Church — who had yet to score more than seven points in a game before last night — finished as the team’s leading scorer with 15 points as she made three of her four 3-point attempts.
Her performance highlighted what was an all-around dominant performance by Michigan, which involved contributions from nearly every Wolverine.
“I think we continued to move the ball and I think we found the right person at the right time and tonight it was different people,” Barnes Arico said. “And I think that’s another strength to our team, that we can find a different scorer on a different night and tonight was another example of that.”
Next, Michigan will take on No. 10 Texas (4-0) in one of the Showcase’s semifinal matchups.
The Longhorns, who battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit against Quinnipiac, will be the Wolverines’ toughest opponent of the young season, as they possess size and skill unlike any of Michigan’s previous opponents.
“They’re really, really, really big inside and they have great guard play — a lot of slashers, a lot of kids that can really make some plays,” Barnes Arico said. “It’ll be an interesting matchup for us. I think one of the things we have to our advantage is our depth and we kind of kind of talked about that a little bit. But they have people that can match up with Hallie (Thome) and Hailey (Brown).
“I think tonight we saw a little bit of how teams are going to try to defend us and really try to back it in and I think we’ll probably see that moving forward as well.”