Posted inWomen's Basketball

Michigan defeats Notre Dame 76-66 for the first time in 12 years

Coming into Thursday night’s game, the Michigan women’s basketball team was on the losing side of a run: it hadn’t beaten Notre Dame in 12 years. Nobody on this team, player or coach, had ever beaten the Fighting Irish. 

That all changed as the Wolverines beat Notre Dame, 76-66, in a back-and-forth, intense battle not characteristic of early season games. Come March, this could prove to be a statement win that does wonders for Michigan’s tournament seeding and overall confidence.

“It felt great to beat them,” fifth-year senior wing Akienreh Johnson said. “(Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico) and I got a little emotional after the game because it's my first time beating them since I've been here. It just felt great to finally get a win in that category.” 

In the first few moments of the game, it looked like history might repeat itself once again.

Notre Dame’s defense came out hot playing in a zone defense in an attempt to minimize the Wolverines’ opportunities in the paint. Specifically, the Irish wanted to stop junior forward Naz Hillmon as much as possible. Hillmon was flustered early, committing three turnovers in the opening minutes.

Turnovers, a key problem from last season, came in droves for Michigan and Notre Dame was quick to capitalize on them. The Irish’s points off turnovers coupled with the Wolverines’ four-minute scoring drought helped Notre Dame jump out to an early lead.

But the Wolverines didn’t shy away from their game plan. And it worked.

“We just have to settle in and be more patient,” senior forward Hailey Brown said. “Often we knew that we were going to be able to get some good looks. I think in the second half, once we settled in and started to move the ball and get some paint touches.”

Hillmon, flanked with double and triple teams consistently, had to work a little harder to get open. However, she is the focal point of Michigan’s offense and the Wolverines didn’t shy away from their MO. By cutting down on turnovers and using Hillmon’s presence in the paint, other players were left open for easy shots and the Wolverines went on a tear, making seven straight field goals. 

“The middle was open, the corners were open,” Johnson said. “We kind of just started to slow the ball, and be more patient and just get better looks.”

The two teams traded runs and the Wolverines entered the locker room with a two-point lead at the half. Their halftime adjustments proved to be a difference maker. 

With nine minutes left, the Wolverines clung to a one point lead. Once the Wolverines were able to create meaningful possessions and minimize their turnovers, their defense was also able to flourish. To close out the fourth quarter, Notre Dame went 1-for-10. Michigan opened up a 13-point lead. 

With all eyes and sometimes three players on Hillmon, she was still able to catch passes from the inside and be a threat in the paint. Notre Dame consistently attacked her, but Hillmon used this to her advantage by getting to the free throw line seven times, going 12-for-13.

All the focus was on Hillmon and Michigan capitalized on this by finding its open players. 

Hailey Brown was a main beneficiary, finishing with 18 points and spreading out the offense via three 3-pointers. Coming off the bench, sophomore guard Maddie Nolan gave the team its initial life by hitting a clutch 3-pointer in the second quarter. She hit another 3-pointer in a 7-0 Michigan run in the fourth quarter to give the Wolverines a lead they would never relinquish. 

Fifth-year senior wing Akienreh Johnson was back in the starting lineup after being sidelined for one game with a leg injury. She played less than usual, only logging 24 minutes, but she played an efficient game going 5-for-9 from the field. No shot of hers was bigger than her 3-pointer with less than four minutes left to give the Wolverines an 11-point lead. This came in the midst of a 9-0 run for Michigan and a three minute scoring drought for the Irish. 

Early season non-conference games are usually cupcakes with not many storylines. But with their trip to Notre Dame, the Michigan women’s basketball team got the early-season test they needed.

In only its third game, Michigan showed what kind of team it can be. A game of this nature can either expose or build up a team. For the Wolverines, it was the latter. 

“For our kids who are Midwest kids for the most part they grew up watching Notre Dame win championships,” Barnes Arico said. “For us to come here and be able to win a game on their home court is really special.”

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Posted inHockeyIce Hockey

Michigan falls to Notre Dame 3-2, suffers first loss of the season

It was too little, too late for Michigan on Friday night as early missed opportunities proved costly for the Wolverines.  

The Fighting Irish defeated No. 4 Michigan 3-2, handing the Wolverines their first loss of the season. This result continued last year’s trend where the road team won all four of the contests between the teams. 

“I told our team we weren't going to go through the season undefeated,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It's a good lesson: It doesn't matter what you've done in the past, you've got to be ready for that next game. And you have to be really ready because everybody else in the Big Ten plays hard.”

Michigan got off to a sluggish start and trailed Notre Dame 1-0 at the end of the first period. Michigan mustered just eight shots on goal and had several neutral zone turnovers and offsides called. Notre Dame had a much more balanced period, sustaining possession in the offensive zone several times, and it paid off in the form of a goal by defenseman Nick Leivermann, who ripped one over junior goaltender Strauss Mann’s left shoulder just past the 10-minute mark in the period. Not much offense came after that and the Fighting Irish took their one-goal lead into the locker room at the first intermission.

The Wolverines came out much more aggressively in the second period and generated several chances. While Michigan had ample opportunities to score, it was Notre Dame getting the goals. Six minutes into the second period, the Wolverines coughed up the puck in front of their own net and Fighting Irish defenseman Nate Clurman capitalized — shooting one through a screen that found its way past Mann. 

Ninety seconds later, Notre Dame extended its lead to three as forward Grant Silainoff leaked behind the Michigan defense, caught a long pass and buried the breakaway opportunity. 

“Second period we were all over them and then the first shot they get goes into the net,” Pearson said. “Some unfortunate bounces tonight but at the same time, we have to learn.”

Late in the second period, freshman defenseman Jacob Truscott picked up a loose puck rolling around the boards in the offensive zone. He found forward Luke Morgan open on the back door to tap it in — making it 3-1 with two minutes to go in the period. This created a spark for a mostly uninspiring Wolverines offense heading into the third period. 

“(Truscott) made a great play to me,” Morgan said. “I didn't even know if he actually saw me. I was kind of creeping in the back door and he made an excellent play.”

Michigan built on its momentum and cut the deficit to one early in the third. Senior forward Michael Pastujov carried the puck in on the right side with a three-on-two developing, hesitated and then snuck one through the five-hole just three minutes in. 

“I was trying to put a puck on net for a rebound and it ended up going in,” Pastujov said. 

The Wolverines kept their foot on the gas and had several quality looks at the net but couldn’t find the equalizer as time winded down. They heavily outshot the Fighting Irish, but to no avail.

“To get behind three, it's a huge hill to climb,” Pearson said.  “You're putting so much energy to get back in the game and I thought we had to do that tonight; so give our guys credit, we got right back in the game and you're one shot away.”

They called a timeout with two minutes left and pulled Mann when they came back on the ice — ready for one more push. It was a frenetic final seconds but that crucial third goal never came. The final buzzer sounded and Michigan had lost, 3-2. 

It was the first loss for a Michigan team that has high expectations for this season. Despite outshooting Notre Dame, 30-18, the Wolverines were playing catch-up for much of the game. They’ll hope to change that tomorrow night and jump out to an early lead. 

“We'll find out what our team’s made of,” Pearson said. “We're a young team and this is our first loss. We'll see how we react.”