The No. 9 Michigan women’s basketball team had been here before in Ann Arbor.
Fighting once again for control of the Big Ten in their matchup with Maryland, the Wolverines found themselves in a familiar place. Less than a month ago, Michigan faced off with Indiana under the same circumstances.
The biggest difference between the two? Senior wing Leigha Brown’s absence.
Against the Hoosiers, Brown was tied for second-leading scorer. Without her, the Wolverines have struggled to make up for her 14.8 points per game average, falling in consecutive outings to Michigan State and Northwestern.
But in Michigan’s 71-59 victory over the Terrapins on Sunday, the Wolverines finally found the secondary scoring they had lacked in their previous two contests. Specifically, the team’s guards made up for Brown’s lost production.
“We’re really tough to guard when everyone’s being aggressive,” junior guard Maddie Nolan said. “(There were) shots in the second half where they started double teaming Naz so we were able to find Laila (Phelia) and me and Danielle (Rauch).”
Much like in the matchup against Indiana, Hillmon mostly carried Michigan’s offense early on. Without any offensive presence outside the post, the Terrapins were able to sag off their defenders and condense into the paint against Hillmon throughout the first half. Heading into halftime Michigan knew they’d have to recalibrate.
Struggling to score for nearly three minutes into the second half, the Wolverines needed a spark. Phelia — a freshman guard — was the first to light up, finding her way into the lane for a driving layup. On the next play, Phelia drained a 3-pointer at the tail end of the shot clock.
“When we’re having an inside-outside attack, we’re at our best,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And there’s always so much pressure on Naz, a double-team, a triple-team … so we were just really encouraging them at halftime to shoot the ball and to be aggressive from that guard spot as well.”
Nolan kept the streak alive throughout the fourth quarter, scoring eight of her eleven points in the final frame. Going 3-for-5 from the 3-point line and grabbing five rebounds, Nolan made herself indispensable down the stretch.
With the win-by-committee style the Wolverines found for the first time since Brown’s absence, Rauch — a senior guard — also found her stride late in the game. The second leading scorer against both the Spartans and the Wildcats, Rauch has filed nicely into the missing gaps left behind by Brown.
Sophomore guard Elise Stuck also brought depth off the bench notching four points and one assist in just three minutes.
Attacking the Terrapins’ limited bench which had only eight dressed players, the Wolverines tired them out with multiple different looks and offensive sets.
“They were able to kind of send more waves in against us,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “And they had more depth.”
The losses to Michigan State and Northwestern highlighted many problems, but one was glaringly obvious: Simply relying on Hillmon is no longer enough for the Wolverines. Other teams key in on the paint and focus their entire defense on stopping her. When Michigan’s guards are producing offensively, it disrupts opposing teams’ game plan.
With control of the Big Ten on the line, Michigan needed its role players to step up. And after multiple missteps in their last two losses, against Maryland, they finally did.