In two games against non-conference opponents, the No. 23 Michigan women’s basketball team delivered dominant wins by overwhelming its opponents at both ends. Clean passes, easy baskets and a suffocating defense have been staples.
On Wednesday night, however — despite a lopsided final line — its performance wasn’t always overwhelming.
The Wolverines (3-0 overall) defeated Western Michigan (0-3), 99-67, in another dominant offensive performance. Strong 3-point shooting was key for that unit, as they were able to stave off scoring runs from a streaky Broncos unit.
Early on, sophomore guard Laila Phelia continued her electric start to the season, injecting life at both ends and finishing the game with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting.
“I think her confidence is sky high,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And she’s worked incredibly, incredibly hard on her three in the offseason.”
Equally important early on were the Michigan bigs in junior forward Cameron Williams and graduate forward Emily Kiser. Facing a Western Michigan roster that lacked size and strength in the paint, they both feasted, combining for 13 points and nine rebounds in the first quarter. Kiser, in particular, excelled against those mismatches at the offensive end, scoring and passing well in post looks.
But it wasn’t all that easy for the Wolverines.
Western Michigan — despite legitimate mismatches at both ends — kept themselves in the game early on. High energy defense gave them five first quarter steals, and their double teams challenged Kiser in the first half.
At the other end, strong 3-point shooting fueled the Broncos with sophomore Maggie Stutelburg was the clear focal point of the Western offense. Her back-to-back second quarter 3-pointers cut into Michigan’s lead, making the Wolverines’ defense as uncomfortable as it had been to that point in the season.
Senior guard Maddie Nolan eventually stopped the bleeding for Michigan with back-to-back threes of her own, forcing the Broncos to call timeout.
“You can feel the energy,” Nolan said. “Not only from our team but from the crowd. Those are definitely game changers, and when you can get shots to fall, it gets you pumped up even more to play defense and get stops.”
When the game returned, those shots proved to be contagious: Sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder added one of her own. Then Phelia, a focal point of the Wolverine offense so far this season, scored eight points in a row to help give Michigan a 16-point lead going into halftime.
Then, in the second half, the defense settled in.
Eight steals helped the Wolverines bury Western down the stretch, and the difference in energy coming out of the locker room was palpable. Phelia, Kiser and fifth-year guard Leigha Brown played with much greater intensity and communication.
“(Kiser) is a great defender,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s affecting the game in so many other ways.”
In the face of that coverage, the Broncos continued to have some success from deep. At the other end, though, sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs added two threes of her own to keep the Michigan lead. Brown also contributed from the bench, adding 13 points to help keep Michigan comfortable down the stretch.
To describe its performance overall as comfortable, though, might be an oversimplification.
As Michigan moves closer to conference play, it’s still learning its limits. But while Wednesday night’s performance wasn’t perfect, it still turned into a decisive victory for the Wolverines.