Twenty-one days after playing its last game — the first loss of the season headlined by junior forward Naz Hillmon’s historic 50-point performance — the No. 12 Michigan women’s basketball team (11-1 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) came out sloppy against Purdue (6-10, 3-9). Lifted by junior wing Leigha Brown’s return and defensive improvements in the second half, the Wolverines went on to win comfortably, 62-49.
Unable to practice as a team for two weeks due to the Michigan athletic department’s pause, the Wolverines only practiced four times within the past two weeks. The team’s first full practice didn’t come until Saturday.
While Hillmon didn’t miss a beat, scoring 10 points in the first half and shooting a perfect 5-for-5, Michigan started the game sloppy, turning it over 14 times in the first half alone. Michigan’s rust was evident and allowed the Boilermakers to come out hot, shooting 4-for-9 from 3-point range in the first half. The Wolverines were able to fend off Purdue’s strong first-half shooting with help from the Boilermakers’ 12 first-half turnovers.
Junior wing Leigha Brown saw her first game action since Jan. 3 and immediately made an impact. She scored a team-high 13 points in the first half, including four trips to the free-throw line. Her first 3-pointer of the game came with just under three minutes left in the second quarter and extended Michigan’s lead to eight points, shifting the momentum back to the Wolverines.
Michigan and Hillmon continued their dominance in the paint and outscored Purdue 20-8 in the first half. Hillmon’s dominance in the post is well-noted, but sophomore guard Maddie Nolan and junior guard Amy Dilk’s ability to feed her inside is equally impressive.
In a back and forth first half, Michigan went into the locker room with a slim 31-24 lead.
The Wolverines started the second half on a blistering 11-0 run, aided by an improved 3-point defense and better ball security. Michigan extended its lead to 18 with 4:30 minutes left in the third quarter.
Anchored by fifth-year senior Akienreh Johnson, Michigan’s defense locked down on Purdue’s leading scorer Kayana Traylor, limiting her to zero points in the third quarter. Johnson’s ability to rebound the basketball, on both the offensive and defensive ends, allowed Michigan to score 17 second-chance points. In all, Michigan outrebounded the Boilermakers, 38-17.
Michigan’s hot second half start came to a screeching halt as Purdue went on a 9-0 run of its own. Brown ended Purdue’s run with a driving lay-up flanked by two defenders. Michigan’s offense got back on track and took a 46-35 lead entering the fourth quarter.
The 11 point lead was too much for the Boilermakers to overcome as Michigan’s quality defense held steady.
Back on the court together for the first time since Jan. 3, the dynamic duo of Hillmon and Brown helped Michigan overcome a poor start and win the team’s first game in three weeks in a very comfortable manner.