For a moment, there was a question. For a moment, Michigan was sputtering — first-game rust, working the kinks out of a new team, what have you. For a moment, it was tight.
Western Michigan came out with a vengeance in the second quarter, quickly scoring off a couple of three-pointers and bringing the game within eight. As soon as the Broncos could get their hopes up, though, they were stampeded by a physically dominant and more skilled Wolverines team that clicked, the moment had passed.
The game ended in a comfortable 76-55 victory for Michigan, out-rebounding Western Michigan, 48-35, and outshooting the Broncos from the field. When the Wolverines got the chance to make their plays, they made them. Sophomore guard Amy Dilk finished with a double-double, 12 points and 11 rebounds, while senior forward Kayla Robbins led the team with 17 points.
In the first two and a half minutes, the game looked to be over. Michigan’s offense seemed unstoppable — up 10-0, with its starters on the court, the Wolverines scored from the three, carved up the Broncos on the transition and found space inside.
The barn-storming pace, though, was impossible to maintain. Three straight turnovers on offensive drives contributed to a sputtering offense, while both junior forward Hailey Brown and senior guard Akienreh Johnson racked up two fouls each and were subbed out.
“It never really allowed us to get into the flow of the game,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I wanted that group of five (starters to get in the flow) — other than the first five minutes of the game, they really didn’t get to play together a ton tonight.”
Their replacements, freshman center Izabel Varejão and freshman guard Michelle Sidor, took the game by storm, scoring 10 of the next 13 points — another burst of scoring put Michigan up by a wide margin.
Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico was determined to get her whole team playing time, and just two minutes into the second quarter everyone on Michigan’s roster would get on the court. The minutes, at this point, were still meaningful — the Broncos ripped off nine points at the start of the second quarter and brought the game within eight points.
But again, a timely substitution spurred the Wolverines on. Robbins came off the bench and they went on a 13-2 run, ending the first half up 42-23.
“Your sixth player is so valuable for your team because the other team is wearing down and can you bring somebody in that’s not going to lose — you’re either going to maintain or you’re going to climb up,” Barnes Arico said. “I was happy to see — I thought (Varejão) did give us a couple of those sparks, and I did think Michelle gave us a spark being able to do that as well.”
Added Robbins: “I came off the bench pretty much my whole career since I’ve been here, so me knowing coming off the bench you have to give a spark, not let things go down, make things go up. I think that having that experience coming off the bench helped us.”
It wasn’t pretty — the team committed ten fouls and nine turnovers in the first half — but the match was now clearly in their hands.
In the end, it didn’t matter that Johnson fouled out with three minutes left in the third quarter, that Michigan scored just five points in five minutes in the third quarter, that it ended the game with 22 fouls and 19 turnovers.
Because the Wolverines still dominated and snuffed out any hope Western Michigan could muster.