With just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Nebraska inbounded the ball down by two. As Hannah Whitish tried to push the ball up the court, however, Akienreh Johnson intercepted the pass and sprinted down the floor for a lay-in that would put the Michigan women’s basketball team up by four points.
The play was one of the game’s biggest moments, and it’s only fitting that Johnson was the one to initiate it. In the Wolverines’ 67-61 victory, the junior guard scored 14 points on five-for-seven shooting, dished out three assists and recorded a whopping six steals. It was an absolute clinic that cemented Johnson’s role as one of Michigan’s key pieces going forward, especially with questions surrounding freshman guard Amy Dilk’s availability after she suffered a gruesome-looking injury in the first quarter after finishing a layup in traffic.
While the loss of Dilk appeared to be cause for concern, the Wolverines found their spark in Johnson, who stole the show on the defensive side of the ball.
Johnson picked off a Nebraska pass on her first possession of the game, making her presence felt almost immediately. She then opened the second quarter with a three from the top of the key and proceeded to follow that up with two consecutive steals and a layup in transition. Her preparation in practice and ability to read plays on the fly helped her crack the Cornhuskers’ pass-heavy offense.
“I knew that they were gonna go ball fake and then pass it opposite,” Johnson said.
While it was the defensive side where Johnson shined brightest on Thursday night, she provided one of the night’s highlight plays on the offensive end as well. With six seconds left in the second quarter, Johnson received a pass on the right wing from senior forward Nicole Munger and proceeded to nail a tough fadeaway jumper as time expired. It was a shot that Johnson practiced routinely. She said that Munger trusting her to take the shot helped encourage her to be aggressive with time winding down.
“Her giving the ball to me gave me the confidence to take that shot,” Johnson said.
After breaking her left hand this past fall and missing over 30 practices, Johnson has been slowly working her way back to full strength. After showing flashes on occasion, Johnson’s 19-point outing last Friday against Iowa and defensive showcase against Nebraska on Thursday seemed to finally indicate that she is back at full strength. Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico has always known that the talent was present, and now she’s thrilled that the rest of the nation is beginning to see it too.
“She’s a kid that can do so many things for your team, and I think everybody’s starting to see that now,” Barnes Arico said.