The Michigan women’s basketball team had talked about its high expectations and significant improvements for weeks before it faced off against Division II foe Wayne State in a season-opening exhibition Thursday night.
And when they finally hit the court, the Wolverines backed up their talk with a 93-41 beatdown over the Warriors. Michigan took a 14-5 lead early in the first quarter before Wayne State called its first timeout. From that point on, Michigan kept its foot on the gas pedal all game long.
“We had our little jitters,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think we played nervous at times. But it was a great opportunity to get out there and play against another team.”
Many Wolverines picked up right where they left off last season, with junior guard Katelynn Flaherty socing a team-high 17 points. Flaherty also flashed her passing ability with three assists, including one pass in the third quarter that split two defenders and set up sophomore center Hallie Thome for a low-post bucket.
Senior guard Siera Thompson exhibited her leadership on the court, flirting with a triple-double with 12 points, five boards, and eight assists.
But the exhibition game also provided an opportunity to stand out for some of the players who may not usually be in the spotlight. Junior forward Jillian Dunston, who started nine games last season and got the nod Thursday, shined in particular. She crashed the boards all night, tallying 12 total in addition to her eight points on 4-for-6 shooting.
Sophomore guard Nicole Munger showed her range off the bench, going 4-for-4 beyond the arc and scoring 16 points, adding five rebounds. Munger credits her teammates for finding her when she was open, and Barnes Arico was impressed with her energy on the court.
“Nicole was a spark coming off the bench for us,” Barnes Arico said. “We were struggling with a couple of people making shots, and she came in and she was instant offense for us. But not only that, she was scrappy all over the place. Loose balls, second-chance opportunities.”
All of Michigan’s highly touted freshman class saw action as well. Standout freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick battled nerves in her first collegiate game, shooting 2-for-12 and 1-for-6 from the free-throw line, but other freshmen showed promise. Akienreh Johnson scored three points and gathered three rebounds in just eight minutes on the court.
While the Wolverines dominated nearly every facet of the game, both Dunston and Barnes Arico agreed that improvements needed to made on the defensive end and at the free-throw line, where Michigan shot just 55.5 percent.
“I think we definitely are a better free-throwing team tonight than everybody saw,” Barnes Arico said. “I was really pleased with the amount of times we got to the line. Now we got to be able to knock those out.”
Added Dunston: “I think our defense will have to close the gap. Even though they didn’t score as many points as us, we have to take pride in our defense and we didn’t do that. We’re gonna have to improve. If we don’t do it in games like these, then we’re gonna be screwed.”