Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico has emphasized defense all season long, but after her team’s second loss of the season, it was stressed even more.
After an inconsistent defensive performance against Nebraska on Jan. 4, in which the Wolverines gave up 26 fourth-quarter points, Michigan hoped to right the ship defending in its upcoming schedule against Big Ten talent.
In their first 14 games, the Wolverines have given up 60.6 points per game on 39.3% shooting from the field. While not necessarily terrible by most standards, Michigan is 0-2 this season when outscored in the paint. Its two losses this season against Louisville and Nebraska were largely due to the Wolverines being outbodied.
Since its loss to the Cornhuskers, Michigan has put together a three-game win streak. This has not only been a result of strong 3-point shooting, but staunch defense as well.
“There were times where we didn’t score, where we figured out a way to defend,” Kim Barnes Arico said on WTKA radio on Jan. 18. “(This) is something that we had talked about being able to improve on, ‘When the shots are not falling, are we going to be able to get a stop?’ ”
So far, Michigan has seen improvement throughout its three-game win streak and has held opponents to just 51 points per game on 33.5% shooting — tied for the eighth best scoring defense in the country.
In their win against Rutgers a week ago, the Wolverines allowed 19 points on 61.5% shooting in the second quarter. Although they struggled defensively, they led 44-25 heading into halftime. Despite being up by 19 points, Michigan cleaned it up defensively, allowing just 22 points in the entire second half on 22.7% shooting.
The Wolverines have proved that they are able to make adjustments.
In the game against Penn State about a week ago, Michigan held the Nittany Lions to 57 points on 36.7% shooting from the field. The defense operated through Wolverines senior forward Emily Kiser who snagged ten defensive rebounds, two blocks and a +25 rating.
While Michigan’s first two games against Rutgers and Penn State may not be considered keymark wins, as both teams have a combined 15-19 record, it was clear that there was defensive momentum heading into the game against Maryland.
The momentum culminated in College Park a few days ago as the Wolverines had arguably one of Barnes Arico’s best defensive games during her tenure in a 69-49 win. Senior forward Naz Hillmon was perhaps one of the best defenders on the court that day, as she changed her style of play, showing her versatility.
“She didn’t take her first shot until six minutes into the game, she was okay with that,” Barnes Arico said. “She was doing other things, defending the other team’s best player, rebounding the heck out of (the basketball), and blocking shots. She was doing so many other things but still engaging and still posting up to open up those shots for other people.”
Despite only having nine points in the win against the Terrapins, Hillmon contributed heavily on the defensive side of the court. She committed to not allowing a layup from her opponent.
This was shown in the final play of the second quarter, where Maryland sparked a fast break leaving Hillmon all alone in the defensive backcourt. Despite this, Hillmon made an emphatic left-handed block inside the paint to deny Maryland any possible momentum.
When the team struggles elsewhere on offense, it can now rely on its stringent defense and its variety of versatile options.