On Thursday night, the Michigan women’s basketball team will get its second shot at taking down No. 13 Iowa and star forward Megan Gustafson at Crisler Center after losing 75-61 just two weeks ago. This time, though, the Wolverines may be without senior guard and captain Nicole Munger.
Munger exited Sunday’s contest against Michigan State in the first quarter with an apparent ankle injury and left the Wolverines with a gaping void to fill.
In addition to being one of the team’s vocal leaders, Munger holds experience and poise that many on the young Michigan team lack. And while Munger has been far and away the Wolverines’ best and most efficient deep threat and free throw shooter — she is shooting 34.5 percent from three with 41 makes and is shooting 94.3 percent from the free throw line, both best on the team — it is the intangibles Munger brings that proves her true value to Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
“I mean Nicole (Munger) is not only one of our top scorers, but she is the glue to our program,” Barnes Arico said on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. “I mean we go as far as she goes. I’ve never seen a basketball player go as hard day in and day out as she does, and that’s in every aspect of the game. She plays with incredible passion on every possession and will do whatever our team needs to do to be successful.
“So she dives on the floor, she takes charges, she gets rebounds, she’s in on every single play and we need players that are willing to sacrifice and step in and do that.”
With Munger out, the Wolverines will need to look to players like sophomore guard Deja Church, sophomore forward Hailey Brown and junior guard Akienreh Johnson for outside shooting.
And need them they will if Michigan is going to have any chance of keeping up with the high-scoring Hawkeyes, who average just over 80 points per game, the 17th-highest mark in the nation.
The Wolverines will look to slow down the Iowa senior — who averages the most points per game in NCAA Division I women’s basketball at 26.4 — by playing a variety of players against her such as Brown, freshman forward Naz Hillmon and senior center Hallie Thome.
“(Gustafson’s) a dominant force, but we have kids that can match up against her,” Barnes Arico said. “I think we did a good job for a half against her last game. Now we have an opportunity to play with our trio of post players that can go out and really match up with her. So she’s the key for them, but they have tremendous guard play as well and their guards do a tremendous job of playing off of Megan (Gustafson)”
Similar to Michigan, while the Hawkeyes have ridden Gustafson to a great season thus far and a dominant home record, one area they have struggled in is their road performance. Iowa is 4-3 on the road for the season and just 2-2 against Big Ten teams. The Wolverines, meanwhile, are 8-1 at home, 3-1 against Big Ten teams and ready to welcome Iowa to Ann Arbor.
“We got an opportunity to get them at home, a place where we play well,” Barnes Arico said. “An opportunity for Hallie (Thome) and Megan Gustafson to have another matchup. You know they’ve been matched up for the last four years. It’s kind of been a great battle to watch those two go at each other. And hopefully we have Nicole back, but if not I always listen to coach Beilein and next man up and who’s going to be able to step up and give us an opportunity to be successful.”