Michigan women’s basketball is back. In its first game since March, the Wolverines came out in their opener looking like they had not missed a beat, defeating Central Michigan 93-75.
From the beginning of the game, the Wolverines outplayed the Chippewas on both sides of the floor.
Starting the game for the Wolverines were junior guard Amy Dilk and forward Naz Hillmon, senior forward Hailey Brown and fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson. Uncertainty surrounded who would be the fifth starter. Junior wing Leigha Brown took the place of graduated Kayla Robbins, giving Michigan a much-needed spark.
Michigan took a commanding lead at halftime thanks to its rebounding ability. The Wolverines outrebounded the Chippewas, 26-10, in the first half, with timely rebounds on the offensive and defensive ends. Efficient rebounding allowed Michigan to overcome early foul and turnover trouble. With only one game under their belt, the jury is still out on whether these turnovers are off-season rust or a barrier for the team, as they were last season.
“Sometimes the other team wants to play at a faster pace and we were playing along with that,” Hillmon said. “Not saying that we can't play at a fast pace. We want to keep our pace in terms of when we need to slow it down so that we don't get those turnovers.”
Dilk came out early in the first quarter to be replaced by junior Danielle Rauch. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico spoke with Dilk immediately. Dilk struggled to finish around the rim as she finished the first quarter with four points. Freshman Whitney Sollom came on late in the first quarter to replace Hillmon. Sollom looks to be an option for Hillmon at the end of the quarter. Hillmon was a bright spot for Michigan scoring 13 points in the first half.
Leigha Brown opened the scoring in the second quarter. Scoring seven points in the final minutes, Brown gave the Wolverines offense an edge going into halftime. Brown's speed and athleticism will be a weapon the Wolverines can utilize throughout the season.
“I've been excited to play with her since she committed here,” Hillmon said. “Obviously we hated playing against her so now that we have her on our team is a blessing. She can knock down the mid range or the three. She's just got all the tools in her back pocket.”
Central Michigan senior Micaela Kelly exploded in the second half. With eight points going into halftime, she dominated the Wolverines with 14 points in the third quarter. Hillmon responded with 11 points, ending the third quarter with 24 points, en route to a team-leading 26. The Wolverines went into the fourth quarter with a 20-point lead over the Chippewas.
In the fourth quarter, the Wolverines only had two turnovers, enabling them to preserve their advantage. Freshman wing Elise Stuck and forward Cameron Williams saw action towards the end of the second half. The young Michigan players provide depth for Barnes Arico and her staff as they look towards tougher opponents.
That, along with 22 points from Leigha Brown in her Wolverines' debut, enabled Michigan to turn a close game into a rout and never look back.
“Basketball games are games of runs and we knew that they were going to make one in the third quarter,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought we did a better job of taking care of the ball and limiting those turnovers.”