Entering halftime, the No. 6 Michigan women’s basketball team held a slim 32-30 lead over No. 5 Indiana. The Wolverines went on a 9-0 run to start the game, but were outscored by seven through the rest of the first half.
The Wolverines put themselves in difficult situations, committing 17 turnovers in the first half. This forced them to defend on multiple back-to-back possessions.
“We had a stern talk at halftime. It puts things into perspective,” senior forward Naz Hillmon said.
Added Hillmon: “Coach is very demanding. She knows what we can bring to the table and knew that we weren’t doing that at the moment.”
The Wolverines came into the second half with renewed energy and controlled the tempo in the third quarter. This put more pressure on grabbing defensive rebounds and negating second-chance points for the opponent. They wanted to be more physical on the defensive end of the court.
Senior forward Emily Kiser, who returned from a first quarter injury in the second, had a career night, snagging a season-high 16 rebounds, 14 of which came off the defensive glass. When Indiana missed a shot, Kiser would not give up the loose ball. With less than a minute in the third quarter, Indiana guard Chloe Moore-McNeil missed a driving layup. Kiser grabbed the rebound, nullifying a potential comeback by the Hoosiers.
“She’s such an incredible defender and such an incredible presence next to Naz,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “She does so many great things for a team that doesn’t show up in the box score. I was happy for her presence back out there because she does so many intangible things to help our team be successful. She’s having a career year and she and Naz are playing off of each other so incredibly well.”
The Wolverines put on a defensive clinic in the third quarter, holding a top-five team to six points on 25% shooting. Michigan also defensively outrebounded Indiana by a 8:1 margin.
“(Barnes Arico) challenged each and every one of us whether you thought you’re playing well in the first half or not.,” Hillmon said. “She stuck it to us and wanted us to know that we had 17 turnovers in the first half and we needed to change that in order to be successful. I just think it was her challenging us to switch to a different gear and to make sure down the stretch we were doing the little things, even if we did end up with 25 turnovers, doing something that can help us overcome that a little bit.”
Outside of Hillmon and Kiser, the Wolverines were able to get defensive help from their
starting guards. Junior Maddie Nolan, senior Leigha Brown and senior Danielle Rauch combined for 14 defensive rebounds in the game.
“I think the biggest thing right now is just clicking as a unit on defense,” Rauch said. “Individually, we’re all not the best defenders in the world. But when we’re gapping for each other, closing out hard and rotating is when we’re at our best. We work on that every single day and it’s showing now.”
Michigan’s defense continued to excel as the game wore on, holding Indiana to 14 points in the fourth quarter. When the dust settled, the Hoosiers’ 50 points was their lowest total of the season.
“Our identity is our defense, and our offense will come based on how we perform on defense,” Rauch said. “Certainly wasn’t a perfect game. But we battled and we fought and every time we stepped on the court, we’re gonna leave it all out there.”