After a 14-day pause and 18 days without game action, the Michigan women’s basketball team is set to play Purdue on Feb. 11. Coming off their first loss of the season against then-No. 17 Ohio State, the Wolverines are looking to bounce back against the Boilermakers.
The matchup would’ve been the second between Michigan and Purdue, with the Jan. 24 game canceled due to positive cases of the novel COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant within the Michigan athletic department.
Michigan’s first game back since the pause will see the return of junior guard Leigha Brown, who would’ve been cleared for the first Purdue game, a spokesperson said. In her absence, the Wolverines struggled to make up for her offensive contributions of 19.7 points per game. Junior forward Naz Hillmon and fifth-year senior forward Akienreh Johnson carried the weight, averaging 28.8 points and 13.8 points in the last four games respectively. Hillmon also comes off a historic 50-point game against Ohio State.
The Boilermakers are coming off a three-game losing streak, recently losing to Illinois 49-54, who the Wolverines have beat twice. Purdue is led by junior guard Brooke Moore, junior guard Kayana Traylor and freshman guard Madison Layden, who recently earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Layden scored 19 points against Iowa on Jan. 18, going 6-for-7 from behind the arc. She followed that with five points, three assists and six rebounds against Wisconsin.
The Boilermakers have the advantage of a recent stretch of games without interruption, but the Wolverines have continued to work individually during the pause to limit their effects. Purdue has a 40.1% field goal percentage, sitting at 12th in the Big Ten. Michigan is second, boasting 48%. With Leigha Brown back, the Wolverines can look to exploit the Boilermakers from the 3-point line.
“Our experience and maturity through this whole thing has been exceptional and I could tell our players were doing things during the pause,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said during the Inside Michigan Basketball radio show. “Whether that was running in place in their room, or doing some situps and pushups or following the lifting program that our strength coach put together, they definitely weren’t just sitting still for two weeks.”
The Wolverines returned to the gym on Thursday, Feb. 4 — but it wasn’t a simple process.
Barnes Arico also outlined their return on the Inside Michigan Basketball show: Michigan separated the coaching staff and started workouts in groups of four to make sure each player would be ready to compete. The team performed dribbling, shooting and non-contact exercises through Friday.
Saturday the team met in groups of four and five, practicing transitional drills without defense. Michigan was finally able to practice as a full group on Sunday, Feb. 7, just four days out from their return to competition.
The pause put a halt to a lot of progress the team was making, but this halt may be short-lived thanks to the Wolverines’ leadership. Michigan is a mature team chalked full of upperclassmen that will use their experience to recover from the pause. It’s the freshmen that may struggle at first.
“One thing that stood out the most to me yesterday was watching our experienced veteran kids go through practice after not practicing for a long period of time, compared to our freshman,” Barnes Arico said. “For Akienreh Johnson, (senior forward Hailey) Brown, (Naz) Hillmon, and (junior guard Amy) Dilk who have been through probably 400 practices at the University of Michigan, yesterday was 401. To our freshman who haven’t practiced in 11 days, yesterday was wow and it looked like wow.”
Michigan experienced a similar, 22-day pause in December. And having only started practicing as a full team on Sunday, the Wolverines will have had only three days before playing Purdue. In a matchup that Michigan only won 66-63 last season, the Wolverines will have to use every bit of the three days to recover from the 14-day pause.
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