Wednesday night’s exhibition against Division II Northwood offered an opportunity for the Michigan women’s basketball team to showcase its talent working at peak level.
Leaning on their superior size and tough defense, the Wolverines ran with that opportunity, dominating the Timberwolves, 97-46.
Michigan opened the night on a 12-0 run and finished the first quarter up 30-11, behind senior forward Kayla Robbins’ eight points on 3-for-3 shooting. Keeping up the pressure, it put Northwood into foul trouble early, drawing four fouls in the first three minutes of the game. This forced the Timberwolves into a more tentative approach defensively, opening up space down low. As a result, the Wolverines’ bigs feasted, spearheading the team’s almost unfathomable 58 points in the paint.
“I think (scoring in the paint) is something that our team has got to do this year,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Because our post game is our strength, and our ability to score in the paint.”
Senior guard Akienreh Johnson aided the Wolverines’ dominant offensive attack early on, adding seven first-quarter points of her own, including a 3-pointer that helped Michigan balloon its lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, sophomore forward Naz Hillmon and freshman forward Izabel Varejão stepped up. Hillmon tallied seven points on 3-for-3 shooting before she was subbed out midway through the quarter. She and Varejão, who notched 10 points of her own in the second quarter, proved to be a lethal one-two punch on both sides of the ball. Their length helped them to anchor defense that held the Timberwolves to just eight points in the second quarter.
“I feel like me and Naz have a really good game together,” Varejão said. “Because I can shoot, and she can post up.”
Varejão was just one example in a game full of young players seizing the opportunity to shine against inferior talent. Sophomore forward Emily Kiser — who didn’t see much playing time as a freshman — tallied 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting, and freshman guard Michelle Sidor notched eight points on 2-of-6 shooting. Freshman guard Maddie Nolan added four points of her own — all from the free-throw line.
“Michelle is a power shooter,” Varejão said. “ … She made a few threes, she was being patient. Maddie hustling — that’s her thing, she hustled. So I feel like we (freshmen) did what we were supposed to do.”
The Wolverines maintained their 55-19 halftime lead with elite defense, holding Northwood to a dismal 25 percent shooting in the third quarter and 34.5 percent over the whole second half.
“(We used) our length to get steals, deflections and tips,” Johnson said. “Even something as small as close out, put your hands up, really takes away their shot and makes their shooting percentage go down.”
Added Barnes Arico: “Our communication (on defense) was better (than in practice). We were way more aggressive from the tip. We didn’t sustain it for 40 minutes, but that’s our next step in our development.”