Entering the season, the Michigan women’s basketball team had one certainty: junior guard Laila Phelia would be a major contributor. But the rest of the lineup remained a question mark.
Who would step up offensively for the Wolverines?
On Tuesday night, the answer wasn’t just one or two individuals putting the ball in the basket. Rather, it was a cohesive full-team effort. In a dominant 80-39 win over Oakland, virtually the entire team found a way to contribute offensively.
While individual numbers on the stat sheet may not jump off the page, with only two players scoring in double figures, looking at it altogether tells a different story — especially beyond the starting five. Michigan’s reserves outscoring the Golden Grizzlies’ entire team 40-39 certainly leaps off the page.
“We always talk about, ‘You’re as strong as your weakest link,’ ” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And for everybody to step in and really give great minutes, I think is important for us moving forward. … Really having the confidence to be able to go deep into our bench and our players having the confidence to know they think they can go out there and contribute.”
Following an opening night performance where Phelia tied her career-high 25 points, she only scored 10 against Oakland. To dominate the Grizzlies, her typical offensive load had to come from elsewhere.
In a balanced attack from the Wolverines, no player scored more than 12 points, and only two players on the active roster scored fewer than five. Michigan’s even play proved that it can have offensive production up and down the lineup.
“We have people who can score in the post and we have people who can knock down shots, people who can drive and playmakers,” Williams said. “I think when you are a threat from multiple different positions, it makes it hard to guard.”
Against a weaker Oakland team, Michigan consistently scored at will both in the paint and beyond the arc. The Wolverines kept switching up looks, going inside-out on the Golden Grizzlies to open up the floor. Their execution on the interior — scoring 42 points in the paint — was so strong, it likely could have secured a win on its own. Twenty of those paint points were contributed by bench players. The confidence from bench players to attack the basket and finish in the interior is a strong indicator of Michigan’s post presence and depth.
But the strength on the interior was just one facet Michigan’s depth dominated in. The bench also controlled the game from beyond the arc.
The 21 points the Wolverines rained down from the outside was an attack that Oakland couldn’t stop. The performance mimicked one of Michigan’s strongest wins from last season against North Carolina in which inside-out play spread the defense out and created space all over the floor. The barrage of triples primarily came from the bench, as the starters went a combined 1-for-8 from deep.
The bench players’ open looks were a product of strong cross-court ball movement, along with post players kicking it out. Sophomore forward Alyssa Crockett, junior guard Greta Kampschroeder and graduate guard Elissa Brett led that charge.
“Crockett’s a really good 3-point shooter, Greta’s a really good 3-point shooter, Brett’s a good 3-point shooter, and (junior guard) Jordan (Hobbs) and Laila are great 3-point shooters as well,” Barnes Arico said. “(Hobbs and Phelia) didn’t make them tonight, but other people stepped up.”
When the starters were struggling to score from outside, the scoring had to be supplemented from another source. Crockett, Kampschroeder and Brett shot a combined 60% from deep, for 18 points, replacing the missing production from the starters’ off night shooting.
If the Wolverines’ bench continues to step up not just when starters are struggling, but also to supplement the offense as a whole, that may prove to be the crucial separator in tight games. And with the question of who will contribute alongside Phelia unclear, it may be even more crucial to Michigan’s season trajectory.
Against Oakland, the Wolverines had an opportunity for their bench to showcase its capabilities — it did exactly that, scoring enough to secure a win independent of the starters’ scoring contributions.