The No. 21 Michigan women’s basketball team has enjoyed nothing more than playing at home this season. Following a 72-70, comeback victory over Iowa, the Wolverines are now 12-0 at Crisler Center.
But all teams must play on the road sometimes. Michigan, who is 5-4 in true road games this season, will travel to West Lafayette to take on Purdue on Wednesday night. The Boilermakers, winners of three of their last four games, will present a formidable challenge for the Wolverines (8-2 Big Ten, 19-5 overall).
Despite being ranked 95th in the Ratings Percentage Index, Purdue (6-4, 15-9) boasts the Big Ten’s best scoring defense, allowing just 58.0 points per game, which is 39th nationally. The Boilermakers rank fourth in the conference in 3-point defense, with opponents making just 38 percent of their shots from beyond the arc.
“Purdue was a team that had a slow start, had some young kids,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on WTKA. “But they are playing extremely well as of late. They are a team that’s coming on strong in our league. It’s going to be a tough matchup for us.”
Statistically though, Michigan presents a defensive unit that is almost as strong. The Wolverines have held their opponents to 59.3 points per game and 38.2 percent 3-point shooting — second and fifth in the Big Ten, respectively. Sophomore center Hallie Thome has also contributed 48 blocks to the defensive effort this season.
Due to the prowess of both defenses, a relatively low-scoring contest may be in the cards in West Lafayette.
Michigan does hold a significant advantage over Purdue with its offense, though. The Wolverines rank third in the conference and 14th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 79.7 points per game. Michigan’s biggest offensive strength is its 3-point shooting, as the Wolverines are second only to Connecticut nationally, making 40.7 percent of their 3-pointers.
The Boilermakers, meanwhile, rank 10th in the Big Ten in scoring offense, as they are averaging just 66.9 points. This gap in offensive firepower may very well be Michigan’s key to victory Wednesday.
The Wolverines’ offensive success is due in large part to the familiar trio of Thome, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty and newcomer freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, who are all scoring at least 14 points per game. Gondrezick is coming off her best week yet, combining for 42 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in two contests.
“To be a freshman and to make the impacts that (Gondrezick) has on an experienced team, I think just speaks volumes to the type of player that she is.” Barnes Arico said.
But Michigan has also benefitted from production off the bench as of late. Sophomore guard Nicole Munger scored seven points, including the game-winning field goal, against the Hawkeyes on Sunday. If Munger can continue to perform like she did Sunday, it will provide a major boost to the Wolverines.
“Nicole was incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “She was all over the place. She provides such a spark for us. She’s been battling an injury all year long, so we’re really aware of how many minutes she’s been playing, and we’re trying to be smart about it.”
Though Michigan will be the favorite against Purdue, there is another factor the Wolverines will have to deal with — Wednesday will mark the first time in any of the current players’ careers that they will play as a ranked team. Michigan was last ranked the week of Jan. 21, 2013.
“I talked to our kids a little bit yesterday after the game,” Barnes Arico said. “I said, ‘Hey, now we’re the team that everyone puts a circle around.’ We’re a ranked team. They’re going to have an opportunity to beat a ranked opponent. So that’s different and it’s not a position we’ve been in before. We need to make sure that we continue to improve and really focus on one game at a time.”
This Wolverine squad has not been like past ones, though, and they will look to continue that trend in West Lafayette.