These moments are few and far between for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
In a top 15 matchup and its toughest game of the season, No. 11 Michigan (12-2 overall, 7-2 Big Ten) lost, 70-65, to No. 14 Indiana (14-4, 11-2). The game was defined by aggressive play by both teams. Over the course of the matchup, the Wolverines racked up 20 fouls and the Hoosiers tallied 19.
Michigan had foul trouble right out of the gate, as junior forward Naz Hillmon was benched early in the first quarter after accruing two fouls in the opening three minutes. Hillmon would not return to play in the first quarter and would sit out a significant portion of the third quarter after picking up another foul.
Having to take the team’s top scorer out very early on, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico was forced to adjust her strategy, putting junior forward Emily Kiser in for Hillmon.
“(Hillmon is) our first option on offense a lot of the time, so when she’s not in we got to have people step up,” graduate student guard Akienreh Johnson said. “Just not having her presence out there on offense and defense, her rebounding, her voice, her intensity, we’re a different team without Naz.”
Junior guard Amy Dilk also struggled with fouls early on and was benched along with Hillmon, sending sophomore guard Maddie Nolan to the court. Dilk and Hillmon, two of the team’s biggest offensive drivers, could be seen standing next to each other on the sideline, itching to get back on the court.
The Wolverines’ initial foul trouble would plague them for the entire game. Michigan finished with four players racking up four or more fouls with senior forward Hailey Brown fouling out of the game.
“Indiana’s a super physical team. … I mean really, really physical,” Barnes Arico said. “I was happy that we responded to their physicality, but I thought our emotion sometimes got into it.”
The Wolverine’s defense demonstrated its skill on the interior from the first Indiana possession, dominating from inside the 3-point line. At the end of the first quarter, junior wing Leigha Brown wrapped up Hoosier forward Mackenzie Holmes, who is averaging 18 points per game, resulting in a blocked shot that cleared the Michigan bench in celebration.
Hailey Brown had an effective game on defense as well, having key blocks in the first half. Brown has been a key part of Michigan’s foundation on both ends of the court, bringing both experience and efficiency. Kiser also had a solid game on the defensive end of the court with a block in the fourth quarter that made the bench go wild.
“Our game plan was kind of to let them shoot the three more, because we know they’re a team that likes to score in the paint. They average about four 3s a game,” Johnson said.
Michigan’s dominance in the interior forced Indiana to take more shots behind the arc as planned, and the Hoosiers had a hot hand, with 50% of their 3-point shots finding the basket. Guard Ali Patberg exploited Michigan’s struggles early on, racking up 15 points in the first half, nine of which came from behind the arc. Patberg’s explosive first half led Indiana to a 37-35 lead at the end of the first quarter, but she was held to zero points in the third quarter.
Whereas Indiana was successful behind the arc, Michigan struggled. The Wolverines shot 27.3% from the 3-point line and only made three 3-point shots compared to Indiana’s nine. Leigha Brown — who leads the team in 3-point shooting with 46.4% accuracy from behind the arc — only shot 1-for-3.
Michigan came out strong in the third quarter with Nolan leading the charge. Nolan stole the ball and took it to the other end of the court, proceeding to then run back toward the bench. On their next possession, Leigha Brown drained her first 3-point shot. However, the momentum was brief and wouldn’t be sustained through the rest of the game. The Wolverines only scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, a number significantly lower than their 18.7 fourth quarter season average.
The resurgence of the offense in the second half wasn’t enough to overcome Indiana’s sharpshooting. With foul trouble continuing to be an issue for the Wolverines, the team’s short term goal is clear:
“We have got to keep our composure,” Barnes Arico said.
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