Kim Barnes Arico likes to call the Wolverines the hardest working team in America. If that’s the case, then Kayla Robbins was the hardest working player in America during Thursday night’s exhibition win against Division II Grand Valley State.
Michigan spent much of the first half trying and failing to find a rhythm. It tossed away transition opportunities, couldn’t get its star scorer – senior guard Katelynn Flaherty – in rhythm, and let the Lakers hang around. With less than four minutes to go in the second, it held an all too tenuous 28-25 lead.
Then came Robbins, and when the horn sounded, ending the second quarter, the Wolverines were up 36-27 after an 8-2 run that proved decisive.
“I don’t know if there was nerves, or people being anxious, or the first time putting on that uniform,” Barnes Arico said after the game. “We didn’t come out to our normal start, but then we were able to pick it up and we changed our intensity.”
The most immediate impact Robbins had was in transition. Michigan wanted to run – that was clear from the beginning – but could never seem to find the right pass or make the open shot. Its first fast-break points of the game didn’t come until just under two minutes were left in the second quarter. Robbins got ahead off a Laker miss. Senior forward Jillian Dunston provided the outlet and Robbins finished an easy layup.
Fifteen seconds later, it was Robbins in transition again. This time, she ran the floor off her own steal and laid it in. That made it a nine-point game, an insurmountable deficit for Grand Valley State.
“I knew when I came in that I wanted to raise the bar and raise the intensity coming off the bench,” Robbins said. “I knew that the intensity was kind of stagnant, so that’s what I tried to do coming into the game. Give other people energy and basically just raise the bar for the team.”
Robbins only scored two points the rest of the game, but her impact was tangible. She did the dirty work: 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and two charges taken.
“She got tips, deflections, she has such tremendous length. I thought she gave us a really, really good spark,” Barnes Arico said.
The second half was easy for the Wolverines. Everything clicked, and the game turned into the blowout it was supposed to be.
Even in garbage time, however, Robbins was boxing out, grabbing rebounds, and playing tight defense. With five minutes left and the game all but over, she nearly tore the ball out of the opponents’ hands, forcing a jump ball. (The possession arrow, however, pointed toward the Lakers at the time).
“I didn’t know my stats during the game,” Robbins said. “But I knew that every board that goes up is mine.”
Junior center Hallie Thome and senior forward Jillian Dunston have strongholds on the starting big positions. However, freshman Hailey Brown started at the three in the exhibition. If Robbins keep playing like this, she could supplant Brown before long.