FAIRFIELD, Conn. — After averaging 21.7 points in the Michigan women’s basketball team’s first three games and establishing herself as a major scoring threat, graduate forward Emily Kiser was the focus of Fairfield’s defense on Sunday afternoon. Throughout the Wolverines’ first road contest, the Stags consistently double and triple-teamed Kiser in the paint in an effort to slow her scoring.
And for the first half, it worked. But they could only contain her for so long. In the second half, Kiser wrecked their gameplan, and with another 20 point performance, now leads Michigan in scoring.
Early on, Fairfield’s defensive efforts operated effectively against Kiser, holding her to just four points on three shots in the first half and forcing her to commit five turnovers. Every time Kiser caught the ball in the paint, the Stags’ defense swarmed her, jabbing at the ball and occasionally poking it loose. Without Kiser’s efficient production early in the game against Fairfield, the Wolverines struggled in the first half and were limited to only 34 points and held a delicate nine-point lead at the break.
But in the second half, Michigan began moving the ball better, resulting in more touches for Kiser. Fifth-year wing Leigha Brown lofted passes high and out of reach of the Fairfield defense — but not too high for Kiser. She reached up and snatched passes out of the air, keeping the ball high to finish inside above the Stags.
“I think obviously without Naz (Hillmon), we needed someone to step up at the five and be able to fill in that role,” Brown said. “And Emily’s done a great job of that so far. I can kind of just throw it up and know that she’s gonna sell out and go get it, which makes my life a lot easier.”
Kiser slipped screens, rolling to the paint to get the defense on her back before catching the ball. Immediately, she was swarmed again by Fairfield — getting double, triple and even quadruple-teamed upon the catch. The Stags mauled her in the paint, initiating tough contact on nearly every Kiser touch. She still got off the shots, and that Fairfield contact sent her to the free often.
And at the charity stripe, Kiser converted upon nearly every attempt, making 10-of-12.
But her impact was felt beyond those ten points scored. Drawing fouls put the Stags in foul trouble, and ultimately led to two of their starters fouling out.
“Drawing those contact fouls are huge,” Kiser said. “If you can get people out of the game, especially in the Big Ten, a lot of teams aren’t deep, they have their main players. So if you draw those fouls, it’s huge.”
Without those two starters, Fairfield lost the contributors of roughly one third of their offensive production. Kiser attacked the paint, drove through contact from players she knew were in foul trouble and killed two birds with one stone — garnering points for herself and forcing her opponents off the floor.
Kiser was efficient, scoring both on quick layups from Brown assists and from the free throw line en route to another 20 point scoring performance despite being the focus of her opponent’s defense.
Playing with an All-American, it makes sense why Kiser wouldn’t have experienced a double-team in her previous four seasons at Michigan. But now, she is the leading threat in the paint. She is the force that opponents need to stop and the one that shows up on the scouting report.
And she’s fully aware of it.
“I know I need to work on the double-team,” Kiser said. “I should probably start expecting it now, which I still haven’t been. I haven’t really faced that since high school to be honest, playing with Naz. It’s something I need to work on because I’m not really handling it as well as I should be.”
Kiser’s ability to score at a high volume while being double-teamed is a promising sign for Michigan. Still, Kiser and Barnes Arico acknowledge that there is a long way to go.
“I think obviously that’s something the last couple games, teams have started to double and triple-team her,” Barnes Arico said. “We got to work on that practice. Her getting stronger with handling those double and triple teams, and then us making some shots out of that.
Kiser needs to be able to not only finish through contact, but also pass out to the wing for 3-pointers. She executed in the paint well against Fairfield, and against Western Michigan she passed out for threes effectively, tallying a team-high eight assists.
Moving forward, Michigan will need her to do both.