LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nicole Munger flew in from nowhere to steal an offensive rebound. Off balance, she traveled, falling into the Kansas State cheerleaders.
On the ensuing possession, it was the Wolverines’ bench that braced her fall following a steal attempt.
Those plays may not have resulted in anything other a few extra bruises for Munger but they did set the tone early for the Michigan women’s basketball team in its dominant performance against the Wildcats.
Along with her shooting ability, the senior guard is known for her consistent effort on both ends of the floor. On Friday afternoon, Munger’s hustle sparked the same intensity in her teammates. Moments after checking into the game, sophomore forward Kayla Robbins ended up on the floor after swiping the ball from her opponent.
Per usual, freshman forward Naz Hillmon entered the game and the Wolverines immediately went to their full-court press. With Hillmon hounding the Kansas State ball-handler at the top and her teammates anticipating long passes, Michigan forced five first-half turnovers directly off the press.
“(Munger’s) still diving on the floor as a senior, throwing her body everywhere,” Hillmon said. “We know as a senior if she can do that, we can do that as well. We try to say we’re the hardest working team in America and we are not going to be that team if there’s only one person sacrificing their body.”
Added sophomore guard Deja Church: “(Munger) just motivates all of us to do the same. When Munger has to go out for a short period of time, we know somebody has to pick up the work.”
The Wildcats couldn’t deal with the Wolverines’ intensity. As the first half came to a close, Hillmon secured a loose-ball turnover and with a fastbreak layup, Michigan’s lead had ballooned to 20.
Despite their considerable lead, the Wolverines maintained their energy well into the second half. Any chance of a comeback on the part of Kansas State was quelled by a Michigan player scoring off an offensive rebound, forcing a poor pass or taking a charge.
“They just whooped us on the glass for second and third chances,” said Kansas State coach Jeff Mittie. “Not very competitive for us on the glass.”
The Wolverines out-rebounded the Wildcats 50-19. Michigan’s size advantage certainly contributed to this disparity but wasn’t the main reason for it.
“I didn’t feel like we had a tenacity to go after the ball,” said Kansas State guard Christianna Carr. “Honestly, I don’t think it was their height. It was just we lost the will to get the ball more than the and we kind of lost it from there.”
Even when Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico emptied her bench in the fourth quarter, her team didn’t give up the fight. Senior forward Samantha Trammel — who had played a total of 26 minutes on the season — checked in, forced a Kansas State turnover and then secured an offensive rebound.
With three minutes remaining and the Wolverines up 83-46, Carr scored an and-one layup for Kansas State. Hillmon, upset by the basket, gathered her teammates in a huddle and implored them to finish out the game with the same intensity they had played with throughout.
“I think you have to give it all every game because it’s March,” Church said. “It’s win or go home and so you don’t know when your last game is going to be, you have to give it all every game.”