The Michigan women’s basketball team (7-1) is on a quest to earn a spot in the top-25 poll, and if the Wolverines can repeat last year’s victory over Xavier (5-0) in their Monday night matchup, they may have a shot.
Michigan figures to test Xavier’s defense, as well as its undefeated record. The Wolverines possess one weapon the Musketeers do not — junior guard Katelynn Flaherty. As Michigan’s leading scorer, she has racked up 159 points in eight games.
Already, Flaherty has been named to the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll and is on the watch list for three major awards: the Wade Trophy, the Naismith Trophy and the Nancy Lieberman Award.
With her consistency, it’s no surprise that she’s garnered this much attention. Flaherty has scored double digits in every game, despite efforts to double-team her. It will take an impressive effort from Xavier to shut her down, and without accomplishing that, Michigan is likely to continue tallying up points.
Scoring shouldn’t be a problem for Michigan. On paper, the Wolverines score more and shoot better than the Musketeers. Xavier comes out ahead in a few categories, though, as the Musketeers average 45.8 rebounds a game, whereas Michigan has 42.1. Xavier also averages 4.6 blocks to the Wolverines’ 3.9.
Though Michigan has poorer defensive numbers, the Wolverines have compensated offensively. Their only real competition this season was Florida State — the top-10 team they lost to on Nov. 26 — and their offense has been the deciding factor in the other seven games, averaging a plus-34.9 margin of victory.
But Xavier could present a problem for the Wolverines, if Michigan’s defense is not up to par.
“Our defense is getting better, and that’s really great to see,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We really have emphasized that in the offseason and the preseason and have really wanted to become a better defensive team, and I think we are. We are still a work in progress, and we practice every day on our defensive stuff.
“We talk about our starting group a lot. But (sophomore guards Nicole Munger and Boogie Brozoski), I mean, they come in, and they just lift our defense and really give us a spark on the defensive end.”
Munger and Brozoski have also been known for their scoring prowess. The Wolverines will need both to come in strong off the bench to beat the Musketeers.
In a tight 78-66 game against then-No. 25 Gonzaga, Munger scored eight points and Brozoski added nine of her own, together ensuring a Michigan win. They have been a factor in almost every game, even if it does not appear in the box score.
The Wolverines have also been struggling with lowering their turnover percentage throughout the season, and have only recently started to limit their giveaways. Against Western Michigan two weeks ago, Michigan had 24.
“They forced us into a lot of turnovers,” Barnes Arico said. “And we lost possessions off of our turnovers, and that hurt our opportunity to score.”
In its last game of the Paradise Jam and its sole loss of the season, Michigan gave up 17 turnovers, but in the next contest, against Georgia Tech, it shrunk that number down to just nine.
“We kicked their butt,” Barnes Arico said. “I didn’t think that we were going to come in here and do that on somebody else’s home court, especially against a team that is 6-0 and has some real quality wins.”
If Michigan continues their trend of reducing turnovers, it should continue its winning streak into this week.