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The beaming stadium lights. The giant block ‘M’ at half court. The long haul up the lobby stairs to the stands. Michigan women’s basketball will soon be upon us. After going 21-11 last season and allowing 63.4 points per game — 144th in the country the Wolverines have something to prove defensively. 

The Wolverines ranked a distant 115th in blocked shots and 51st in rebounds nationally. These numbers leave room for improvement for Michigan come November. 

Junior forward Naz Hillmon led the team on both offensive and defensive rebounds, with 8.7 rebounds per game last season. In order for the Wolverines to be successful, they will rely on her ability to snatch the ball and dish it back out to her teammates. 

“We know that defense wins championships, and we can have a bunch of scorers on our team, but we can’t stop our opponent,” Hillman said. “We’ve just been really focusing and harping on defense, individually and as a team, just not allowing anybody to be the weak link on the floor.”

Team practices are underway for the first time since March. With summer workouts canceled, the team lost time to develop defensive strategy, along with the rest of the Big Ten and NCAA. For now, specifics will be on hold as the group focuses on building chemistry.

Whether it’s man-to-man, zone or half court press, the Wolverines haven’t had enough time to implement any specific defensive scheme. The general focus remains on individual defensive strategy and defending as best as possible. 

“We may get into schemes a little bit later, but for the first week it’s just really been digging down and getting stops,” Hillman said. “Especially considering that all of our newcomers have to first figure out to understand what coach (Kim Barnes Arico) wants from our normal defense.”

As much as the team will rely on the likes of Hillman and graduate student Akienreh Johnson for rebounds and blocks, the offense will contribute defensively as well. Sophomore guard Michelle Sidor is one of the shortest players on the team, yet her defensive role will be immense. 

Sidor came off the bench 31 times for Michigan last season. The then-freshman averaged 3.4 points and 0.8 rebounds per game. While her offseason consisted of improving her offensive skills, she paid close attention to the defensive side of the game 

“It’s mostly in practice, but like in the weight room, we do a lot of stuff,” Sidor said. “And I do defense of flies like resistance, and a little bit of on court flies just to help me laterally.”

With a year under her belt, Sidor will look to contribute more on the court come November. 

“I felt a big jump from last year on my defense just being aware of where to be and even one on one,” Sidor said. “It’s been getting a lot better, and I feel a lot more confident.” 

Such confidence will be necessary across the board if Michigan wants a stronger defensive presence this upcoming season.