The Michigan women’s basketball team knew what was on the line:
Its first top-10 win at home, handing Indiana its first conference loss, and most importantly, taking control of the Big Ten.
In their biggest game of the season, the sixth-ranked Wolverines (19-2 overall, 10-1 Big Ten) battled against the fifth-ranked Hoosiers (14-3, 6-1) in a game that was close until late in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines came out on top, winning 65-50.
Under two minutes into the game, Michigan swaggered back to the bench with smiling faces. Indiana had just called its first timeout of the game to try and stem the bleeding after a 9-0 opening run from the Wolverines.
The Hoosiers looked stunned, struggling to get into a rhythm. Senior forward Naz Hillmon dominated early in the paint, and senior forward Emily Kiser crashed the boards to secure seven rebounds in the first quarter alone.
Then the Hoosiers found their footing.
Dropping into a full-court press, Indiana exploited the Wolverines’ biggest weakness — sloppy turnovers. Committing 10 in the first quarter alone and 25 on the night, turnovers throughout the game gave the Hoosiers ample chances to keep Michigan’s lead in check.
“We had a stern talking to at halftime,” Hillmon said. “It’s been a while since we had one of those but it put things into perspective. … she wanted us to know that we had 17 turnovers in the first half and that we needed to change that in order to be successful.”
Under two minutes into the second quarter, Indiana drained a 3-pointer from the wing, tying the game for the first time all night. Clawing their way back into the fight, the Hoosiers refused to allow the Wolverines’ lead to grow. Indiana outscored Michigan 16-13 in the second, and the Wolverines entered the locker room clinging to a two-point lead.
Starting the second half with back-to-back offensive putbacks from freshman guard Laila Phelia and senior guard Amy Dilk, the Wolverines managed to keep the Hoosiers at bay. Continuing to capitalize on offensive rebounds, Michigan found a way to overcome the plague of turnovers that continued to affect them, notching 52 rebounds, more than double Indiana’s 20.
“We got the better of them tonight on a day where we turned the basketball over a ton in the first half,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We talked a lot at halftime about staying disciplined, staying true to us and trying to be better in the second half. And you figure how do you get to victory when you turn the ball over that much but the way we rebounded the ball and the way that we defended I thought was exceptional.”
Indiana made it challenging for the Wolverines to get the ball to Hillmon in the paint, continuing to thwart any momentum the Wolverines could gain. Making it challenging to get the ball in the paint to Hillmon, the Wolverines struggled to score midway through the third quarter. Indiana continued to rein in any sort of momentum the Wolverines could gain.
Then, the seniors got fired up.
In the final minutes of the third quarter, the Wolverines righted the ship. Coming off the media timeout, senior guard Danielle Rauch drained a long two from the wing. With buckets from Brown and Rauch — and Hillmon once again finding success in the paint — Michigan capped off the quarter on a 6-0 run, stretching the lead to 12 points.
Indiana continued to pester the Wolverines with its full-court defense, attempting to force turnovers and sloppy passes like they did throughout the first half.
Yet, Michigan’s lead proved insurmountable throughout the fourth quarter. Hillmon continued to steal the show through the fourth, tallying 21 total points on the night. With Brown relegated to the bench with foul trouble for much of the second half, the Wolverines continued to go with what they knew would work — Hillmon in the paint.
The Wolverines minimized mistakes and began to run out the clock, heading into the final media timeout up by 11 and holding a lead they would never relinquish. In the end, the lead Michigan had painstakingly grown throughout the second half proved too large for Indiana to overcome.
“For our team we’re in a different position than we’ve ever been in before,” Barnes Arico said. “We always talk about “the hunted”, you know, and we’re in a different position. How are we handling that? And I think each game, each new game we have to remember people are coming for us like we are here now. We’re going to get everyone’s best shot.”