In its last four games, the No. 17 Michigan women’s basketball team has alternated wins and losses. Returning home to Crisler Center with over 10,000 fans in attendance for the second straight game — a program first — the Wolverines were looking to build off their win at Purdue in a bid to start a new trend.
And behind double-figure scoring from four players, Michigan (15-3 overall, 5-2 Big Ten) pulled away in the second quarter to handle rival Michigan State (10-8, 2-5), 70-55.
Despite Michigan’s slow start from the field in the first quarter, its defense held the Spartans to just 11 points — their lowest first-quarter total of the season. The Wolverines forced nine turnovers, setting up their offense in transition by converting those opportunities into nine of their 14 first-quarter points.
“I think that’s something that we’ve really been pretty successful at so far this season, is being able to turn people over,” fifth-year senior wing Leigha Brown said. “And then I think that leads to easy looks in transition, especially (with) defenses that really pack you in the paint like MSU does.”
Throughout the game, Michigan’s defense not only forced 22 Spartan turnovers, but also held them to an abysmal shooting clip of 15.8% from beyond the arc.
Following a quick four points from Michigan State out of the break, the Wolverines needed to respond. 3-pointers from sophomore guard Laila Phelia and senior guard Maddie Nolan put them back on top, but Michigan needed something more in order to pull away.
And Brown provided it.
Following another Spartan turnover, Brown drove up the court, pulling up at the top of the key. Withstanding contact from a Michigan State defender, Brown elevated to sink the shot and draw the foul, sending the Crisler Center crowd into a roar. And a few minutes later with just two seconds left in the quarter, Brown sank a shot that sent Michigan into the break with momentum and an eight-point lead.
For a moment, however, it looked like the Wolverines would once again fall victim to third-quarter offensive issues, committing two early turnovers and struggling with the Spartan press.
But for only the second time in the last five games — and second straight game — Michigan outscored its opponent in the third quarter, a trend that it hopes to sustain. The Wolverines’ aggression on offense picked up, drawing more fouls and opportunities at the free throw line. Those fouls forced two Spartans into foul trouble with four apiece, relegating both of them to the bench and helping Michigan solidify control.
“(In the second half) I thought we needed to be more aggressive and try to get to the rim and get stops on defense,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Because if we got stops on defense, I felt like we were able to get out and transition and really get downhill against them. And I thought that was a really big turning point for us not to have to handle their pressure all the time, get stops and draw fouls.”
On the defensive end, sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs stepped up, drawing a charge — Michigan’s third out of four of the game — and pumping her arms in celebration. On the subsequent possession, Hobbs sank a 3-pointer to eventually take a comfortable 12-point lead into the fourth.
That lead was a result of the Wolverines turning around their third-quarter misfortunes from games past.
“Third quarters have been a huge emphasis in the locker room coming out,” graduate forward Emily Kiser said. “Earlier on in the season, those weren’t our best quarters. In the Purdue game that we just played, that was huge to just come out (and that) started on the defensive side. Because when we get stops, they couldn’t press (and) we can kind of go in transition, which I think was huge. And then I think we cleaned up better on the boards this time which helped that run start.”
Despite surrendering 12 offensive rebounds in the game, Michigan only allowed two second-chance points, and outrebounded Michigan State 18-16 in the second half. Throughout the entire fourth quarter, the Spartans weren’t able to make a dent in Michigan’s lead. The Wolverines’ offense did what it had to do to keep the lead and win, but its defense — which surrendered its fewest points in conference play thus far — carried them to victory down the stretch.
With the win, Michigan defeated its in-state rival and built upon its last victory, sparking what it hopes will be a winning pattern.