Challenged to a shooting contest by Western Michigan, Michigan flashed its accuracy from deep to build momentum in its victory. Grace Beal/Daily. Buy this photo.

Leading by just four points midway through the second quarter, the Michigan women’s basketball team needed a spark. The game was still up for grabs, with Western Michigan bringing aggression and dominating from behind the arc.

But with two back-to-back threes that forced a Bronco timeout and re-invigorated the crowd, senior guard Maddie Nolan gave the Wolverines exactly the momentum shift they needed.

And just four minutes after Nolan’s series, sophomore guard Laila Phelia knocked down her own set of back-to-back threes. Phelia’s off-ball movement opened up lanes for cross-court passes and outside shots, allowing her to solidify the double-digit lead that the Wolverines only built upon in the second half.

“The 3-pointer is a killer,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “And if you can have them back-to-back, that takes the wind out of the other team’s sails.”

That’s exactly what Nolan and Phelia allowed the Wolverines to do. But early on, the 3-pointer was almost as much of a bane for Michigan’s defense as it was a weapon on offense.

Western Michigan established early that it would consistently pull up — and knock down — shots from deep. With six 3-pointers on 18 attempts in the first half, the Broncos kept the game within reach, largely due to letting the three-ball fly.

Guard Maggie Stutelberg proved to be an especially destructive force on Western Michigan’s offense. Going 4-for-7 on 3-pointers in the first half — and finishing the game 6-for-12 — Stutelberg presented a notable challenge for the Wolverines’s defense.

“I think (Stutelberg) hit four (threes) before people were really locked in,” graduate forward Emily Kiser said. “There’s gonna be players like that this whole year, so I think being able to adjust to that quicker is huge.”

Western Michigan guard Lauren Ross also wreaked havoc on the court, going 5-for-5 from three en route to scoring 27 total points. As a team, the Broncos ended the contest with 13 3-pointers on 38 attempts, employing an emphasis on 3-point shooting that Michigan had yet to face in the early going of their season.

“It was challenging,” Barnes Arico said. “We play two post players and we would try to have Cameron (Williams) and (Kiser) out there and they’re guarding two 3-point shooters, which is something that they’re really not accustomed to doing.

“But I thought they both did a really good job and sometimes you’re gonna face opponents like that, so it’s good to have that kind of opportunity to face them now.”

Because Western Michigan often deployed five guards on the court, the Broncos began to consistently double-team Kiser under the basket, making outside shooting especially impactful for the Wolverine offense with extra bodies around their go-to post player.

Those shots often came at opportune moments — in addition to the back-to-back sets from Nolan and Phelia, sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs knocked down an emphatic shot from behind the arc in response to a Western Michigan 3-pointer to open up the fourth quarter.

“We talk a lot about momentum,” Nolan said. “You can feel the energy, not only from our team but from the crowd and stuff like that, and those are definitely game changers. When you can get shots to fall, I think it just gets you pumped up even more so to play defense and to get stops.”

Nolan and Phelia served as Michigan’s primary 3-point catalysts on Wednesday, going 3-for-8 and 3-for-4, respectively. Hobbs also hit two threes in the second half off the bench.

“We really feel like we’re deep in that area, and that’s probably something that we haven’t had in the past,” Barnes Arico said. “When you trade threes for twos, you really gain momentum.”

The Wolverines didn’t often trade threes for twos against Western Michigan. The 3-pointer served as a double-edged sword, allowing for momentum shifts on offense while still plaguing the Michigan defense.

But as the season progresses and the three-ball continues to grow in importance, the Wolverines look to turn that double-edged sword into a weapon reserved solely for use against their opponents.