Last Thursday, the Michigan women’s basketball team, in what appeared to be a matchup of equal talents, wiped the floor with Georgia Tech in a 92-52 rout.
The Wolverines had been buoyed by their offensive prowess in each game prior, but for the first time, it seemed like the defense could also hold its own against a strong offensive team.
Michigan was firing on all cylinders and doing it consistently on its way to a hot 7-1 start.
“It was a pretty good game,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico after the contest. “We kicked their butt. I didn’t think that we were going to come in here and do that. … You always have to be ready. We always talk about the team and not being caught up in our individual stuff.”
The Wolverines especially overpowered Georgia Tech with their height, as 6-foot-5 sophomore center Hallie Thome and 5-foot-11 junior forward Jillian Dunston controlled the paint on both ends, combining for 23 points, 17 boards and four blocks.
After the Wolverines’ stellar showing, they marched onward to their fifth consecutive road game to take on an unproven Xavier team that had yet to face a Power Five conference team.
But by the end of Monday’s game, Michigan’s top-10 offense looked unfamiliar, as the Musketeers held it to just 58 points — 28 at halftime — in a 61-58 Xavier victory, just four days after the Wolverines’ 40-point win over the Yellow Jackets.
The Musketeers’ defense overwhelmed Michigan and, according to Barnes Arico, they didn’t even have to guard every player to do it.
“(Xavier) really just keyed on certain defenders … (Junior guard) Katelynn (Flaherty) and Hallie (Thome) more so than anybody else. It forced other players to step up. That limited us from getting any second-chance opportunities.”
When Thome was removed in the first half due to early foul trouble, her absence was apparent and Michigan’s outside shooting couldn’t make up for it like it had in its previous contests. Xavier’s offense wasn’t clicking, either, but it did what it needed to come out on top.
Thome and Dunston put up a strikingly different stat line against the Musketeers — just four points and 11 boards combined on 2-for-10 shooting.
Maybe it was the Wolverines’ exhausting road game stretch to blame, or Xavier’s aggressive game plan. Maybe it just wasn’t Michigan’s night. But what is certain is that the Michigan of Monday looked nothing like the Michigan of Thursday, and that's because the Wolverines’ weaknesses in their small lineup were revealed.
This is Michigan’s second consecutive 7-2 start, but the Wolverines will try not to replicate last season, when they went 4-7 in its next 11 games.
The Wolverines sit 108th in the NCAA in rebounds per game (41.0) and 102nd in blocks per game (4.0). Even with natural shooters like Flaherty and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick leading the offense, Michigan’s low post presence is not contributing at the level of a tournament team, and it’s shown in both of its losses.
Barnes Arico was reluctant to point blame for the loss to Xavier, but she knows her team is still yet to find a groove.
“I think this game will help us to get better,” Barnes Arico said. “It definitely exposed some things we have to work on, and it’ll definitely help us moving forward.”