After losing two straight games, the No. 9 Michigan women’s basketball team looked to right the ship and take sole possession first place in the Big Ten. After a week-long hiatus, the Wolverines were tasked with defeating a top caliber opponent in No. 13 Maryland.
And they succeeded.
Michigan (21-4 overall, 12-3 Big Ten), defeated the Terrapins (20-7, 12-4), 71-59, in a late-season tilt that could prove central to determining the conference champion.
“(The message) was that we can bounce back, and we really want to protect the block ‘M’,” senior forward Naz Hillmon said. “We’re a better team than the way we played those last two games, and if we play defense and do everything that we have been doing, everything else will follow.”
Both teams started the game off sloppy, shooting a combined 0-for-7 from the field. Neither side was able to hit a basket until four minutes into the game when Hillmon converted layups on back-to-back possessions, giving the Wolverines a 4-0 lead early.
Despite that spark, turnovers began to plague the Wolverines’ offense, as the team finished with six in the first quarter alone. The turnovers put Michigan in difficult situations on defense, allowing the Terrapins to hit five of their next eight shots.
Turnovers continued to hamper the Wolverines in the second quarter, forcing them to defend against fast breaks which resulted in foul trouble. Michigan recorded a whopping nine turnovers in the second quarter alone.
Despite that inability to hold onto the ball, continued production from Hillmon allowed the Wolverines to enter halftime tied at 24.
Even though the team was struggling offensively, its defense was holding the number five scoring offense in the nation to just 24 points at the break.
Down by six following a Maryland run to open the half, the offense appeared to find some rhythm, scoring 11 points in under two minutes to put Michigan up one. Freshman forward Laila Phelia scored five of the eleven points.
“We talked about turnovers (at halftime),” Hillmon said. “There were some things that were making us turn the ball over and a lot of them were our fault. Having an opportunity at halftime to sit down and really talk about them and knowing that we can control some of those was a big thing.”
Despite a quick response from Maryland, a three-point play from Hillmon late in the third quarter helped regain a lead the Wolverines would never relinquish.
The lack of response from the Terrapins came in part on a defensive clinic from the Wolverines, who allowed only one field goal in the final four minutes of the third quarter to go up 45-41.
The guards got involved on defense, with Nolan and freshman guard Laila Phelia each finishing with five defensive rebounds. Entering the matchup, Maryland guard Angel Reese led the nation in offensive rebounds per game. She finished Sunday’s game with just one.
“It was a point of emphasis of ours (in) Laila and Maddie defensive rebounding,” Barnes Arico said. “With Reese being the offensive rebounding leader in the nation, we tried to make sure that we were blocking her out.”
In the final frame, Michigan clamped up defensively. Kiser continued her strong game, snatching a loose ball to negate second-chance points for Maryland — holding it scoreless for over two minutes.
Even more, the Wolverines’ strong defense allowed them to break out offensively in the fourth. After shooting 2-for-10 from 3-point range, Michigan hit its next three 3-point attempts to further increase the margin.
“People are double- and triple-teaming Naz,” Nolan said. “So that leaves a lot of us open on the 3-point line. We’re confident in everyone that they can knock down a big three at any given time.”
Every time the Terrapins made a basket in the fourth, the Wolverines responded with points of their own. They limited turnovers down the stretch and kept Maryand at bay.
“We were able to handle their pressure and we cut our turnover number in half, and that significantly helped our success.” Barnes Arico said.
With its first two-game losing streak of the season looming large, Michigan responded. The Wolverines handled business on their home court, getting back in the win column in a big way.