When the Michigan women’s basketball team enters Carver-Hawkeye Arena Thursday night, it will face one of the biggest challenges of Big Ten play, both literally and figuratively.
While the Wolverines’ (11-6 overall, 2-3 Big Ten) game against No. 23 Iowa (12-4, 3-2) could have major implications for their NCAA tournament fate, Michigan will face a big challenge on the court in the form of Megan Gustafson. The junior is currently the nation’s leading scorer, averaging 26.4 points per contest while also hauling in 12.9 rebounds. Senior Hallie Thome, who is averaging 12.4 points per game along with 5.4 rebounds, will have her hands full with Gustafson, her likely assignment.
Even though the Hawkeyes — who average 80.6 points per game — have the edge in the scoring department, the Wolverines hold the upper hand on the offensive glass, which could be key to spurring an upset against a team that features a big as its focal point.
The Wolverines grabbed 18 offensive rebounds in a loss at No. 9 Maryland last week, but were unable to seal an upset after turnovers turned a one-point fourth quarter deficit into a fourteen-point defeat.
“We typically turn the ball over way too much but I think we’ve gotten better at that throughout Big Ten play,” coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “A lot of the Big Ten teams… like to play an up-tempo paced game. It lets them get out and run and score easy buckets. So I think it’s twofold, we need to do a better job executing off the glass rebounds and then just not turning it over.”
While Thome will garner the most attention given her matchup with Gustafson, freshman guard Amy Dilk and freshman forward Naz Hillmon will be instrumental. Playing big minutes in their first collegiate season, the two have impressed at times, though their success has not been without bumps in the road.
“It really doesn’t slow down and become that easy until your junior season,” Barnes Arico said. “So we’re expecting a lot from a lot of young kids and I think they’re continuing to improve and continuing to buy into the process every day.”
Thursday’s game against the Hawkeyes provides a major challenge for the Wolverines, but that will be nothing new in one of the nation’s toughest conferences.
“The Big Ten is stronger than it’s ever been before,” Barnes Arico said. “Our league from top to bottom is just tremendous this year.”
On Thursday, Michigan will experience that in full.