Senior guard Danielle Rauch swung the ball to junior guard Maddie Nolan, who stood, waiting, wide open in the right corner. Nolan quickly rose and released the shot, which dropped through the net with ease. The next possession down the floor, Nolan found herself open in the exact same spot — this time fed by junior guard Michelle Sidor. Nolan fired another shot and found the same result. This second consecutive 3-pointer from Nolan put Michigan up by four early.
Nolan’s shooting gave the 13th-ranked Wolverines (3-0 overall) a huge boost as they easily propelled themselves past UMass Lowell (1-2), 73-54. After those 3-pointers helped Michigan to an early lead, it didn’t trail for the remainder of the game.
The Wolverines’ consistent lead belies Michigan’s offensive woes from Tuesday’s matchup, though. Despite Nolan’s offensive spark, the Wolverines struggled as a unit on that end of the floor throughout the first half, shooting just 15-for-35 from the field.
Michigan made up for its early offensive woes with a strong defensive performance. Senior forward Naz Hillmon wreaked havoc on the defensive end by hedging screens set by the River Hawks. This led to a pair of early turnovers from UMass Lowell — a steal and a travel. The Wolverines forced 13 turnovers in the first half alone, sending them into halftime up 39-26, and they finished the game having forced 21 turnovers.
“I think we just needed to settle in and really lock in to playing defense,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We felt like if we could do that we would be in good shape.”
Michigan’s 1-2-2 full court trap, which has shown up sporadically thus far throughout the season, reappeared with just over a minute left in the first quarter. The defensive shift resulted in a steal by freshman guard Ari Wiggins, who was a menacing presence in the backcourt whenever she was on the floor. After snatching her second steal of the game in the third quarter, Wiggins dribbled the ball up the floor and finished through contact, earning a key stop and two points for the Wolverines.
Senior forward Emily Kiser was another major contributor on both sides of the ball for Michigan, drawing a trio of charges — one in each of the second, third and fourth quarters. Kiser also finished the game with her first career double-double, posting 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Thanks to Kiser and others, Michigan’s offense started to pick up steam very quickly in the second half, starting the third quarter by making its first four field goal attempts. This third quarter offensive explosion was highlighted by a 16-0 run for the Wolverines. Additionally, Nolan knocked down her fourth and fifth threes of the game this quarter. She finished the game with a career-high six made 3-pointers — on just seven attempts — en route to an 18-point performance.
“I just kept shooting,” Nolan said. “It’s a thing we’ve been talking about a lot. Just having confidence whether the first one goes in or not. And obviously, I have great teammates who are capable of driving in the paint and dishing it out.”
The Wolverines’ stout defense continued throughout the second half, holding the River Hawks to just seven points on two made field goals in the third quarter. The fourth quarter defense eased up just a little, allowing 19 points, but still did everything it needed to secure the win. Michigan gave freshmen Ari Wiggins and Jordan Hobbs, as well as sophomores Cameron Williams and Elise Stuck, a lot of playing time in the fourth quarter; the defensive struggles in the fourth could just be a part of the learning curve for the Wolverines’ underclassmen.
“They’ve been getting minutes early on, but they’re a work in progress,” Barnes Arico said. “They have little clips of looking like a highlight reel, and then they make a couple mistakes in a row.”