After three weeks of postponed games and limited practices due to COVID-19, the No. 16 Michigan women’s basketball team (6-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) didn’t miss a beat during a dominating win over Wisconsin (3-3, 0-3), 92-49.
Only eight players were eligible to play in Thursday’s game due to COVID-19 concerns, leaving the Wolverines without their usual depth off the bench.
“These are unprecedented times and it’s tough,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “It’s tough for those five players. It’s tough for our team.”
All five of Michigan’s starters were eligible to play, though, and led an early barrage to give the Wolverines a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. A smothering defense sparked a fast-break offense, perhaps best encapsulated by an Akienreh Johnson breakaway layup late in the first quarter.
After their inability to score, the Badgers fell too far behind to catch back up. With only junior guard Danielle Rauch, junior forward Emily Kiser and freshman forward Cameron Williams on the bench, Michigan continued to rely on its starters to finish and grow its lead throughout the game.
Michigan avoided the fatigue and sloppiness that often comes with a lack of bench depth, their experience showing through. They were able to contain every Wisconsin player to under nine points, and in the fourth quarter alone they added 13 rebounds — one more than the 12 they logged in the first quarter.
“Coming in knowing we only have eight players available is definitely a different mindset,” junior wing Leigha Brown said. “But I think our experience really shines through in those situations, knowing when we can foul when we shouldn't foul, and just being smart.”
Rebounding was also key for the Wolverines in containing the Wisconsin offense. Coming into Thursday’s game, Michigan ranked first in the conference in rebounding margin at +12.8, with Wisconsin in second at +8.8. The Wolverines outrebounded Wisconsin by 21.
“That was actually one of our top keys of the game was to box them out and get the rebounds knowing that they have three players in the top 10 in the Big Ten in rebounding,” junior guard Amy Dilk said. “Coach said, ‘We have bigger guards so guards need to go in there and rebound’ and that’s what I was trying to focus on today.”
Playing a fast-paced offense, Michigan attacked the basket before the Badgers could set up their zone defense. Stacking both senior forward Hailey Brown and junior forward Naz Hillmon in the post gave Michigan ample players in scoring position. Hillmon contributed 11 rebounds and 22 points — her fourth double-double this season.
Adding a team-high 26 points, nine of which came from beyond the arc, Leigha Brown played an important offensive role in posing an outside shooting threat, opening up the paint for Hailey Brown and Hillmon.
Leigha Brown also played the most minutes of the game at 36. Without many substitutes, the responsibility was put on wings like Leigha Brown and Johnson to play more than their average minutes.
“I think players like Akienreh Johnson, even though she complains sometimes that she’s old because she’s in her fifth-year, or Leigha Brown — those guards can run all day,” Barnes Arico said. “So they had a little bit more minutes but they’re such competitors, that I’m not really worried about them moving forward.”
Junior forward Emily Kiser also made an appearance after spending the beginning of the season sidelined with an ankle injury. She contributed valuable minutes with eight rebounds and eight points, six of which were from beyond the arc.
After multiple canceled games, the Wolverines escaped 2020 with a 6-0 record, the best ending they could have hoped for.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.