Madison Ristovski jumped in front of a driving Xavier guard, put her hands up, set her feet and took the charge. The Michigan bench was ignited, rising to its feet before the referee could even corral the basketball.
It was clear even in the first quarter that the Wolverines were hungry to make a statement with their hustle on Thursday night at Crisler Center. The Michigan women’s basketball team outplayed the Musketeers in nearly every facet of the game to the tune of a 92-54 win.
“They were just scrapping and clawing all over the place,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They were looking to take charges, dive on the floor for loose balls — they just set the tone the first half of the game. Everybody that rotated into the game gave us great minutes.”
The Wolverines (3-0) began the contest by utilizing their guards’ ability to penetrate the perimeter defense. Just when a Xavier player bit on the pump fake for the shot, the guards fed the ball to freshman center Hallie Thome, who scored Michigan’s first six points.
Midway through the first quarter, the Wolverines began implementing a zone defense, trapping the Musketeer point guard just before she reached half court. The defensive pressure forced turnovers, while the hustle to dive for loose balls and to disrupt passing lanes was evident from tip-off. By the end of the first quarter, Michigan boasted a 10-5 rebound advantage, with three of those boards coming on the offensive glass.
“More rebounds for us mean less offensive chances for the other team,” said sophomore forward Jillian Dunston. “It gives us more possessions, and we kind of value our possessions through rebounds. … (Rebounds) are our bread and butter.”
Ristovski capped off the first quarter with a buzzer-beater 3-pointer to give the Wolverines a 25-14 lead. The next 3-pointer the senior guard knocked down ignited an 8-0 run in the second quarter, causing Xavier to take a timeout after a reverse finger-roll by sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty. The Michigan bench jumped up as those on the floor neared the sideline, showing as much energy as it did when Ristovski took a charge in the game’s opening minutes.
By the time Ristovski drained her third triple of the contest, the Musketeers were in a nearly five-minute scoring drought. Xavier quickly found itself down by 23, and continued to be outworked on the glass and for every ball that was up for grabs.
Michigan led 49-20 at the half, holding the Musketeers to just six points in the second quarter. The Wolverines shot 7-for-9 from behind the arc — their best shooting half of the young season. They shot 57 percent from the floor, nearly double Xavier’s 29 percent. Flaherty led all scorers with 14 points at the halftime break.
“Coming out of that half, (Barnes Arico) said (the first half) was one of the best halves she’s been a part of here at Michigan,” Flaherty said. “That gave us a lot of confidence. And I think it showed us that we can play that well and that hard.”
Michigan also had the upper hand on the boards, racking up 15 more rebounds than Xavier. Dunston had eight rebounds in the first half — the same number as all of the Musketeers combined. With 5:25 left to go in the third quarter, Dunston picked up her first career double-double as she reached 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Xavier’s leading scorer, guard Raeshaun Gaffney was held quiet throughout. Gaffney, who scored 18 points in her last game, mustered just four points in the first half. She didn’t record her first field goal until just 4:12 remained in the third quarter.
Dunston finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Flaherty finished with 19. The Wolverines didn’t let their opponent get anywhere close in the victory.
“(Gaffney) took 21 shots for them the other night,” Barnes Arico said. “She didn’t have an opportunity for 21 shots tonight. We did a really great job. Siera Thompson did a great job defending her, and everybody else did a good job of helping out on her.”
Michigan faced its toughest competition to date Thursday night, but controlled the game as easily as it did in its first two contests. The Wolverines will continue to be tested as the competition stiffens, and for now, they have continued to outwork their competition.
“We always say, and we write in the locker room before the game, you can’t be the hardest-working team in America unless you’re willing to do this, this and this,” Barnes Arico said. “Tonight, they came out and showed that they were willing to do all of those things to be considered as one of the hardest-working teams in America.”