In her three years as a starter, junior forward Hailey Brown has consistently produced solid numbers for the Michigan women’s basketball team. Though she isn’t the team’s most prolific scorer, her veteran post presence and high basketball IQ help her to score key points and guide the team through rough patches offensively.
But with Brown in concussion protocol for Saturday’s game against Appalachian State, the Wolverines had to look elsewhere for that consistent production. They found it from a number of contributors — the most significant being sophomore forward Emily Kiser — in their 62-35 victory over Appalachian State.
Kiser averages just 11.3 minutes per game, the fourth lowest on the team. Normally, she plays in a relief role, filling in when Brown or sophomore forward Naz Hillmon needs a rest.
Thrown into a larger role on Saturday, Kiser responded with a career-high 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting. Much of her scoring came in the high post, as the Mountaineers’ zone defense clogged the inside and forced her to make those tough shots from the top of the key. She also added seven rebounds, plus three blocks and a steal on the defensive end.
“She just affects the game in so many ways,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She could post you up, she can face up, she hit a lot of outline jumpers, she sees the floor really well, she's a good passer, she finishes around the rim and she really rebounded the ball well for us.”
Kiser was helped down low by freshman center Izabel Varejão. Though the scoresheet didn’t quite reflect Varejão’s strong performance — she finished with just four points — she contributed to the victory in more intangible ways.
At 6-foot-5, Varejão inherently stands as an offensive threat in the post. Especially against smaller opponents like Appalachian State, she can be almost impossible to guard with only one defender.
“Everybody knows she has the ability to make shots,” said senior guard Akienreh Johnson. “So even her catching the ball, them triple-teaming her, her being able to give the dump down or a skip pass (can really help the team).”
Varejão’s strongest contributions, however, came on the defensive end. The Mountaineers are not a particularly strong 3-point shooting team — they make just 21.2 percent of their shots — so the Wolverines knew from the beginning that they needed to focus on denying easy attempts down low.
Varejão’s length and physical presence helped her to clog up passing lanes and force Appalachian State into poor shots. Although she got a little too physical at times — she fouled out late in the fourth quarter — her presence down low was key to holding the Mountaineers to just 29.5 percent shooting.
“We played them for the drive, (and) we tried to keep them off the free throw line,” Barnes Arico said. “We talked a lot this week about knowing your personnel, understanding your personnel, and trying to take some things away, and I thought we were able to do that.”
With just 11 players on the roster, Michigan will need its depth players to be ready to respond when needed. Brown’s injury offered the Wolverines the first true test of their depth.
For now, it looks like they passed.