The Michigan women’s basketball team was in a dangerous spot.
After the Wolverines (14-7 overall, 5-5 Big Ten) shot 75 percent from the floor in the first quarter and led by as much as 12, poor second quarter shooting allowed No. 18 Iowa (18-4, 9-2) to cut the lead to six with five minutes left in the first half. Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon was the only Michigan player to make a shot in the quarter — scoring all six of the team’s second quarter points to that point.
With just under four minutes left in the half, freshman guard Michelle Sidor checked in. Sidor hadn’t scored since a Jan. 12 loss to Maryland and had played sparingly since then. But on her first offensive possession, junior forward Hailey Brown faced a double team in the paint and kicked it out to Sidor, who drained an open 3-pointer.
Two possessions later, she made another one, and the Wolverines’ lead was back up to 13. They took a 12-point lead into halftime, en route to a 78-63 victory.
“Michelle Sidor comes in and makes two big threes for us, that just changed the landscape of how they were able to defend us and opened up the floor for us,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “(She) might not have a ton of numbers in the box score, but I thought (her) play was really, really special.”
Following an under-.500 month of January and the loss of second-leading scorer Kayla Robbins, the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament hopes were in question. Picking up their first win against a ranked opponent is a huge boon to their tournament chances.
Michigan took its momentum from the first half into the third quarter and got off to a fast start. With 6:43 left in the quarter, following an 11-5 run highlighted by four of Hillmon’s 30 points, the Wolverines led the Hawkeyes by 18.
But a minute later, freshman center Izabel Varejão picked up her fourth foul and had to sit. With Brown also on the bench deep in foul trouble, Michigan had to turn to sophomore forward Emily Kiser for an extended period of time. With Kiser in, Iowa looked to feed its bigs and expose her. Over a 1:30 stretch, the Hawkeyes went on an 8-0 run, cutting the lead to 11 and forcing Barnes Arico to call a timeout.
The timeout settled the Wolverines down. Coming out of it, they went on a 7-0 run of their own, with six points coming from Hillmon. Michigan averted disaster.
Despite a five-minute stretch without a point and the Hawkeyes shooting 58.8 percent in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines survived.
“We knew they were going to make some runs, as they did in the third quarter,” Barnes Arico said. “But we were able to sustain those runs and make big plays down the stretch and go into someone like Naz and make them have to defend her down the stretch.”
Score-wise, the Wolverines could afford to go through a few scoring droughts due to an efficient first quarter. After Thursday’s loss to Northwestern in which Michigan committed eight first-quarter turnovers, it emphasized coming out strong. The Wolverines still had their fair share of turnovers, though — six total in the first quarter — but they played good defense and knocked down shots.
Michigan jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead, and Iowa didn’t score for the first three minutes of the game. The Hawkeyes stopped the bleeding with 3-pointers on each of their next two possessions, but couldn’t gain much momentum as the Wolverines prevented Iowa from getting shots in the paint and forcing it to settle for 3-pointers. The Hawkeyes shot 60 percent from deep in the quarter, but made just 4-of-11 shots from the floor, while Michigan made 9-of-12.
“Obviously, an opposing team and you’re down in the first quarter, you’re gonna get a little deflated,” sophomore guard Amy Dilk said. “We just emphasized to just keep pushing, because they’re the type of team — anyone in the Big Ten — the game is not over.”
While Iowa wouldn’t relent until the very end, a fast start and baskets at key times to stop the Hawkeyes’ momentum propelled the Wolverines to their first win over a ranked opponent.