There are many reasons for the Michigan women’s basketball team’s success this season. Some might point towards senior forward Naz Hillmon, who was recently named to the midseason team for 2022 Naismith Trophy, or to the career years from senior guard Danielle Rauch and senior forward Emily Kiser, or even the Wolverines’ sporadic 3-point shooting deluges.
Michigan, however, has quietly been carried by strong rebounding performances.
The Wolverines see themselves as a defensive team, knowing their offense will come from their defense. When Michigan is able to snag the loose ball off a missed shot, it proves critical in negating second-chance points. So far this has proved successful as the Wolverines have held their opponents to 29.8 rebounds per game, which ranks third best in the nation.
“(Rebounding) really has been one of our points of emphasis all year,” Senior forward Naz Hillmon said after the Jan. 27 Ohio State matchup. “(We’re just) trying to be one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and it starts with our effort.”
Following Michigan’s loss to Nebraska, in which it was out rebounded 42-34, the Wolverines have out rebounded opponents by a 16.3 margin — tied for the second-best rebound margin in the country.
The Wolverines’ rebounding has helped them ride an eight-game win streak. During this streak, four of Michigan’s eight wins have come against ranked opponents.
Rebounding was greatly emphasized in the Wolverines’ first road victory against Maryland. They finished the game with 24 defensive rebounds — more than the Terrapins’ 23 total rebounds. Hillmon, who is more known for offense, changed her style of play against Maryland by putting more emphasis on grabbing the ball.
“(Hillmon) was doing other things (than scoring),” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Defending the other team’s best player, rebounding the heck out of (the basketball), and blocking shots.”
It proved to be successful as she led the team with eight boards and two blocks.
In the game against Ohio State in Columbus on Jan. 27, the Wolverines again had more defensive rebounds than the Buckeyes had total rebounds with 34 and 20, respectively. The Wolverines’ defense operated with poise on the glass, as three players snagged at least six defensive rebounds.
“(Ohio State) is gonna come out firing and they’re going to want to get every rebound,” Hillmon said. “But we just had to out tough them and not wait for the ball to come back to us, but to get it.”
In their win against Indiana a week ago, the Wolverines headed into halftime only up two points despite having a plus-14 rebound margin. With only one second-chance point in the half, Michigan knew that its rebounding would eventually translate into points.
In the second half, the Wolverines finished with a plus-18 rebounding margin, allowing them to score 13 second-chance points. Michigan finished the game allowing zero second-chance points for the Hooisers. Kiser finished the game with a career high 16 rebounds, which proved pivotal in the win.
The Wolverines’ guards have also proved that they are able to make adjustments when Hillmon and Kiser are taken out of rebounding position.
During its win streak, Michigan has been able to get rebounding help from its guards. In its win against Indiana, Rauch and junior guard Maddie Nolan combined for 14 rebounds with nine coming in the second half.
“It’s been a major focus getting our guards to rebound on both ends,” Barnes Arico said. “Danielle is running (back in transition) every single time and cleaning up all those rebounds. The last couple games her defensive rebounds are the top on our team and I think that just speaks volumes.”
In the game against Iowa, it was more of the same.
Halfway through the third quarter, the Wolverines were out rebounding the Hawkeyes, 36-15. This allowed Michigan to hold a 25-point lead with 3:32 left in the third quarter. The defense operated through Rauch who snagged a career high eight rebounds.
Despite Iowa guard Caitlin Clark’s career high 46-point performance, Michigan’s early rebounding margin put them in position to hold off any potential comeback.
Rebounding has been critical to the Wolverines success this season. They are 18-0 when they out rebound the opposing team. When Michigan fails to out rebound their opponent, it holds a 2-2 record. The Wolverines have four different players with at least 90 rebounds this season.
If Michigan continues to out rebound its opponents, it can lead to a very successful March.