Heading into Saturday’s Round of 64 game, the No. 3 seed Michigan women’s basketball team knew that if it played defense, the defense would transition into offense and help guide it the rest of the way.
And it did.
The Wolverines started the game off slow. The Eagles controlled the pace early, attacking the paint. With American making back-to-back buckets, Michigan called an early timeout down by four.
“I think we were just really hyped, the opposite of nervous,” senior forward Emily Kiser said. “March Madness, just all of it. I think this caused us to come out a little rushed, but we settled in. We knew not to panic with it.”
After the timeout, the Wolverines did not look back, as its defense helped pave the way to a 74-39 win.
They would make a statement on the defensive side of the ball, holding American scoreless for the remainder of the quarter. This would follow suit in the second quarter, too.
With the Eagles down by six with 8:47 in the second quarter, they looked to make it a one score game. With the ball in Michigan’s zone, American guard Emily Fisher looked for an open teammate only for senior forward Naz Hillmon to steal the ball the other way leading to an easy layup.
Plays like those caught American off guard.
“I don’t think we expected it to be that physical with how hard they crashed,” American forward Lauren Stack said. “They were relentless.”
Michigan held American scoreless for two stretches of over 5:30 minutes in the first half. Entering the game, the task of defending all-around player in American junior guard Jade Edwards seemed difficult.
Edwards, a one-woman wrecking crew for the Eagles, led the team in points, minutes, rebounds, steals and blocks.
The Wolverines knew if they stopped her, American would have trouble creating offense outside of Edwards.
And they did, as Edwards only amassed seven points in 38 minutes.
“Going into that game we knew that we had to be able to stop (Jade),” Michigan freshman guard Laila Phelia said.
Phelia was the primary defender on Edwards for most of the game. With this being her first NCAA tournament game, Phelia was just enjoying the moment.
“It was great,” Phelia said. “Just being able to go out there knowing things are going to happen and being able to just lock in and just have fun.”
With Phelia taking Edwards out of the game the rest of the team followed suit.
“After being able to stop her, everyone else was able to contribute and stop everyone else who on the other team that wanted to score,” Phelia said.
Edwards was not able to find a lane for an open shot. In the second quarter she did not attempt a signal shot.
“Obviously it was pretty difficult,” Edwards said. “This team is really talented and at some point, you know you can’t do much.”
After scoring eight points in the first five minutes of the game, American was only able to amass five points the rest of the first half.
“Once we settled down, we were really able to establish ourselves on the defensive end,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I thought our defense was outstanding for sure.”
The strong defense in the first half helped put the game out of reach.
After struggling in the paint against the Eagles in the first quarter, the Wolverines forced them to take outside shots and negate offensive boards. This proved successful as American would only hit one 3-pointer all game, which came in the final minutes of the game.
“I think defense is our team’s identity,” Kiser said. “It leads to our offense which rattles the team with our aggressiveness.”