In its 69-58 win against Oakland (2-3 overall), the Michigan women’s basketball team (5-0) held a substantial lead for nearly the whole game. That is, until the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines, following the narrative of most non-conference games they have played so far this season, built up a big lead early in the first quarter. Senior guard Danielle Rauch opened the game with a drive through the lane for a bucket. A subsequent 3-pointer from junior guard Maddie Nolan set Michigan up for a 9-0 run.
Still without senior wing Leigha Brown and senior guard Amy Dilk, the Wolverines had to generate their offense through a wide variety of players as they’ve done for the majority of the season thus far. Rauch and Nolan continued to split point guard responsibilities, with Rauch contributing 10 points and two assists for Michigan in the first half.
Senior forward Naz Hillmon checked into the game midway through the first quarter after missing the Wolverines’ last game against Central Michigan due to a non-COVID related illness. She made an immediate impact, opening up the paint with a layup and taking a charge on the defensive end, ending the first half with seven points and a block.
Hillmon wasn’t the only one contributing on the interior. Senior forward Emily Kiser brought a much-needed intensity throughout the first half. Taking a charge late in the first quarter and dominating the boards, she ended the first half with 11 points and five rebounds.
Despite the Wolverines’ early scoring capabilities, turnovers plagued Michigan’s offense all night long. The Golden Grizzlies’ tight style of defensive play made post entry passes challenging. The Wolverines ended the night with 21 turnovers — their highest this season.
“Just a lot of silly ones honestly,” Hillmon said. “A lot of those trying to do the high-low into the post. Obviously, they were a smaller team so they were going to try to double and after the first three turnovers we continued to do it, didn’t fix that.
“A lot of that was silly turnovers, kept doing the same thing and getting the same results, and obviously, that’s not going to work out in the end.”
Coming out of the locker room, the Wolverines’ third-quarter performance followed the same pattern as the first half. Seemingly sticking to its game plan, Michigan played aggressive defense and continued to facilitate offense through many players. It seemed as if the Wolverines could coast to the final buzzer.
Then the fourth quarter started.
The Wolverines were immediately tested by a more aggressive Oakland defense. Starting the fourth, Michigan was up by 13. After a missed 3-pointer from Nolan and a turnover on an offensive rebound from sophomore guard Elise Stuck, though, things started to fall apart for the Wolverines.
In the next possession, Oakland guard Lamariyee Williams came down the floor with a 3-pointer. Within the next two minutes, Michigan picked up four offensive fouls. These fouls, as well as multiple Michigan turnovers, allowed the Golden Grizzlies to go on a 12-0 run and hold the Wolverines scoreless for more than three minutes.
With just over five minutes left in the game, Oakland cut Michigan’s lead to within one point after a 3-pointer.
“I think coach said it best in our huddle, was that we kinda got tight and they didn’t,” Hillmon said. “Especially when things were going well offensively, which it was in the first half for us, and then it switched to them. I think they just really took the combination of them kind of going on that scoring run and just being comfortable and trying to do everything they could to be in the position they ended up in.”
As the Wolverines’ lead dwindled, the upperclassmen’s experience in tight games became necessary. And they delivered. Hillmon came up big late in the game, scoring 12 points in the fourth quarter alone and ending the game with 25 points and 11 rebounds.
“She’s a difference maker,” Barnes Arico said. “And when the game got tight down the end we just ran everything to her or through her and she was able to put our team on her back and will us to victory.”
Throughout the entire game, but especially in the fourth quarter, Michigan’s emphasis on rebounding proved beneficial. The Wolverines outrebounded the Golden Grizzlies, 43-23, leading to 17 second-chance points.
And those extra-effort scores made all the difference for Michigan in the end, allowing them to hang on despite Oakland’s aggressive fourth-quarter play.