Nicole Munger picked up the loose ball and took off down the floor. The ankle injury Munger had suffered against Michigan State didn’t look to be ailing her now as she directed the fast break for the Wolverines. When a Hawkeye caught up, she dumped it off to Deja Church, who laid it in with ease.
A transition layup finished off by the sophomore guard perfectly characterized the first quarter of Michigan’s (13-9 overall, 4-6 Big Ten) 90-81 victory over No. 13 Iowa (16-5, 7-3) Friday afternoon.
The Wolverines started the game firing on all cylinders. Two slashing drives by Church — who finished the quarter with eleven points — a corner three by Munger, and an off-balance jumper by senior center Hallie Thome all contributed to Michigan’s quick start. A buzzer beating three-pointer by junior guard Akienreh Johnson capped off the Wolverines’ efficient first quarter.
“It was nice that we shot the ball and shared the ball as well as we did today,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think everyone was playing with a lot of confidence. They’ve been putting in a lot of extra work in the gym and I think you saw the results of that.”
Down 26-15, the Hawkeye’s high-powered offense finally kicked into gear in the second quarter. The nation’s leading scorer, Megan Gustafson, managed to maneuver out of a Michigan double team and finish at the rim on a few occasions.
Iowa’s real catalyst though, was guard Kathleen Doyle. She seemed to be everywhere on the court — hitting threes, converting tough layups and stealing outlet passes.
To counteract Doyle’s offensive output, Church finished the half with the same offensive aggressiveness with which she had begun it. After Iowa had taken a one-point lead late in the quarter, two driving scores by Church reinstated the Wolverines’ lead going into the break.
The second half started with a flurry of finishes from each team’s center. Gustafson offset two hook shots by Thome with a turnaround jumper and a hook shot of her own, amassing eight points within four minutes.
Johnson, left unmanned because of a double team, knocked down another wide open three. Freshman point guard Amy Dilk looked poised and confident at the helm all afternoon, finishing with nine points and seven assists. Following a missed jumper from junior forward Kayla Robbins, Dilk secured the offensive rebound and somehow managed to force in the contested layup from under the backboard. Another three from Johnson and Michigan was rolling.
“Coach puts a lot of emphasis on me to be a leader and a threat on offense,” Johnson said. “So I think today it just all came out. These past couple games I’ve been a little off. So today was just an outbreak for me to rebuild my confidence.”
The game’s second buzzer-beating three, this time from Iowa’s Tania Davis, finally broke the Wolverines’ momentum. Entering the fourth quarter though, the Hawkeyes still trailed by 11.
Every time Iowa made a run in the final frame, Michigan answered right back. In typical fashion, Gustafson was dominating the paint. When they needed stops though, the Wolverines got them. Employing a full-court press, Michigan disrupted the Hawkeye’s flow. On the other end of the floor, veterans like Johnson, Munger and Robbins — who finished with 13 points and eight rebounds — wreaked havoc and put Iowa in significant foul trouble.
“The way that Akienreh and Kayla rebounded the basketball was incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “It not only gave us more opportunities but it also really limited them to one shot on the defensive end. I thought they played composed and I thought they were just terrific for us. They were difference makers today.”
The Wolverines have struggled at times this season with closing out games, but with every made free throw or offensive rebound, their confidence grew. Inside Crisler Center, where Michigan is 9-1 this season, the crowd erupted in all-out exuberance on multiple times down the stretch. They were having fun, and Michigan was too.