There is a reason collegiate and professional basketball leagues give out a sixth player of the year award at the end of every season: Depth matters.
And the Michigan women’s basketball team has proven it has no shortage of depth. Rotation players have combined to score 16% of the team’s overall points this season.
In moments when the starting five have required rest or missed games because of COVID-19 protocols, the bench has stepped up for the Wolverines. Michigan’s 13-2 record is in large parts a product of its depth.
Sophomore guard Maddie Nolan is arguably the team’s best player off the bench, even earning her way into the starting lineup four times, first being thrust into the lineup when Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico put her in while junior wing Leigha Brown was absent with COVID-19 complications. One of the team’s best 3-point shooters, Nolan frequently reignites the Wolverines’ offensive momentum.
In Michigan’s win over Wisconsin, where she scored a career-high 21 points, Nolan was a consistent outside threat that the team leaned on. In the early moments of the game, graduate student guard Akienreh Johnson got tangled up with some defenders and managed to find Nolan on the outside. Nolan fired a shot from behind the arc and got the team, which had bungled the last few possessions, back on track.
“She’s big, a strong guard, she defends exceptionally well, she rebounds well,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She can shoot the ball and that really (gives) us an option from the outside.”
Junior guard Danielle Rauch is another player that has played considerable time for the Wolverines, averaging 15.2 minutes per game and starting twice when Brown was out. Rauch’s impact can’t be quantified by a mere box score.
Rauch has only scored 21 points in the 200 minutes she’s played for Michigan, but her role isn’t necessarily to come off the bench and score basket after basket. Usually subbing in for junior guard Amy Dilk, Rauch becomes a de facto manager of the offense, spreading the ball around to players for open shots. Rauch has 19 assists on the season, the fifth-most on the team even besting some of the starters who’ve gotten much more time on the court.
“I’d give Danielle Rauch a lot of credit. She’s really grown into her role outside and on the court,” Dilk said when asked about leadership within the team. “All of us, with everything going on, have really had to step up and have a leadership role.”
Junior forward Emily Kiser missed the first five games of the season due to an ankle injury, but she’s emerged as a consistently solid defender since her return. Specifically, Kiser has demonstrated her ability to play strong defense in the post with senior forward Hailey Brown and junior forward Naz Hillmon.
Sophomore guard Michelle Sidor is another rotation player that hasn’t seen a lot of playing time but has been efficient with the minutes she gets. Appearing in 10 games off of the bench, Sidor is most effective from behind the arc, shooting 34.8% from deep so far this season. She knocked down three triples against Oakland and tied her career-high 16 points against Butler, a performance fueled by 4-for-8 shooting behind the arc.
The four-player freshman class has also shown flashes of talent for the Wolverines, revealing a bright future where Michigan has roster depth in the long term.
Depth matters, and Michigan is lucky to have such consistent players to back up its starters.
In an unorthodox season, you never know when a player will have to take up the mantle of the team’s mantra: “Next man up.”
Come March, it might make all the difference.
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