In the early minutes of the Michigan women’s basketball game against Niagara, the Wolverines committed five turnovers.
But Michigan’s early sloppiness became a distant memory by the end of the contest, as the Wolverines dominated Niagara to the tune of a 107-35 victory. Six Michigan players scored at least 10 points during Sunday’s game, and the team coughed up the ball just twice throughout the remainder of the game.
“I thought we did a great job of sharing the basketball, making plays, giving everyone an opportunity to contribute,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “The most impressive thing for me was that we started the game with five turnovers early and then we only had two for the rest of the game. And that was an area where we weren’t really happy the other night. So I think we improved in that area.”
Just like during its win against Oakland on Friday, Michigan turned to sophomore center Hallie Thome to score inside and loosen up Niagara’s defense. Of the Wolverines’ first five scores, three were Thome layups.
The early move paid off as junior guard Katelynn Flaherty made a three-pointer 27 seconds after Thome’s third layup. Michigan cruised to the end of the first quarter with a 29-12 edge while Flaherty finished the game with 14 points.
“We want Hallie and Katelynn to get as many touches in the game as possible,” Barnes Arico said. “That’s our first look every game to see if we can get Hallie and Katelynn involved early. I think other teams try to take those two away specifically, that’s the goal of other teams, that ‘If we can shut down Hallie Thome and Katelynn Flaherty we can be successful against Michigan.’
“That’s why I think it’s so great that other people are stepping up. But if we have the opportunity to get Hallie or Katelynn the ball, we think they’re gonna be successful.”
The Wolverines dominated even more in the second quarter as they outscored the Purple Eagles, 27-6, to take a 56-18 lead at halftime. Freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick continued to demonstrate why she was so highly touted, tallying eight points in the second quarter alone out of 12 on the day.
Michigan showed even less mercy in the third and fourth quarters as Michigan pieced together a 29-0 run that lasted for about 10 minutes. Junior guard Maria Backman scored seven of her career-high 13 points during that span.
“I feel great,” Backman said. “We got the win, and that’s the first and foremost thing that’s most important. I think having teammates that like to share the ball so much, it’s an ode to them.”
The early blowout allowed Michigan to showcase freshmen for extended periods of time. Every player on the roster saw the court for at least 11 minutes, and freshman guard Kayla Robbins played for 21.
Robbins made the most of her time on the floor, attaining the Wolverines’ first double-double of the season. She tallied 13 points and 11 rebounds against Niagara.
“That was the biggest thing, for (the freshmen) to get the opportunity on our home court in front of their family and friends,” Barnes Arico said. “To be able to show their game and to be able to contribute tonight, that doesn’t happen very often.”
While it is unlikely that the Wolverines will be tested in home contests versus Howard or Western Michigan, who finished 327th and 150th, respectively, in last year’s Rating Percentage Index, more challenging contests are not far away.
Michigan will travel to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam tournament and will play three games. One of them is against Florida State, who is currently ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll. A lot will be learned about the true character of this team then.