After Cyesha Goree graduated, the Michigan women’s basketball team lost a center who averaged more than 10 rebounds a game. Heading into the 2015 season, the Wolverines were in need of a replacement.
Enter Hallie Thome. The freshman center and former Ohio Ms. Basketball is supposed to get rebounds. After all, she is 6-foot-5.
“It’s nice to have that post presence inside,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on Tuesday to WTKA. “And I know we worried about it this year, losing (Goree).”
Expectations haven’t entirely been met, though. Thome has pulled down 28 rebounds through six games for the Wolverines. Averaging 4.7 boards per game isn’t exactly what one would expect from someone of Thome’s size. She isn’t playing poorly by any means — hitting a remarkable 76.6 percent of her shots — but her lack of aggressiveness on the glass seems to negate her height advantage.
The Wolverines focus on rebounding every day in practice, and assistant coach Melanie Moore works with Thome one on one, challenging her to grab more boards. When the whole team gets together for the rebounding drills, it tends to get pretty intense.
Barnes Arico will typically put five of the team’s practice managers around the arc, and the Wolverines all line up on the free throw line. When the coach shoots the ball up toward the backboard, the players turn around, find a manager to block and grab the rebound.
If a player fails to block out one of the practice managers, she is taken off the court.
Drills like these are what Thome needs in order to become more aggressive. She has great hands and finishes around the rim better than anyone Michigan has faced so far, but she still hasn’t filled the rebounding void.
Making up the lost ground is sophomore forward Jillian Dunston. A new addition to the starting five, Dunston leads the team with 49 rebounds — twice as many as Thome. Dunston and Thome are essentially opposites. What the 5-foot-11 Dunston lacks in height, she makes up for with her tough, gritty attitude in the paint.
Sunday, Michigan outrebounded Oral Roberts, 37-33, and Dunston led the way with nine. Michigan was actually trailing the Golden Eagles in rebounds at the end of the first half, but it came back to dominate the boards after the break.
STAYING UNBEATEN: Michigan is 6-0 for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. Not a single opponent has lost by less than 15 points, and it’s largely due to the Wolverines’ deep roster.
“I don’t know as a coach how many times in my career I’ve had (this much depth) before,” Barnes Arico said. “Usually you have a couple players that can score, but not eight or nine. We have eight or nine that can be our leading scorer on any given night, or at least make a big basket.”
Michigan is deepest at the guard position, led by junior Siera Thompson and sophomore Katelynn Flaherty. There are about six guards that play double-digit minutes every game, but it’s not because Barnes Arico is playing a four-guard lineup.
Barnes Arico has tended to keep two forwards in most of the time, rotating Thome, Dunston and senior Kelsey Mitchell.
The Wolverines have plenty of options going small or big, and Dunston explained why it makes the team so successful.
“If they stop Hallie Thome, they can’t stop the wings,” Dunston said. “But if they stop the wings, they can’t stop Hallie.”
It’s a good problem to have, but no matter the depth, Michigan’s undefeated streak is going to be put to the test this week with games against Pittsburgh and Princeton, both of which defeated the Wolverines last year.