The Michigan women’s basketball team just finished finals examinations week. It ended with an easy test, as the Wolverines (9-3) dominated Southern (3-8) Friday afternoon at Crisler Center, 76-35.
The score was close, with Michigan up, 7-6, at the first media timeout. Shortly after, though, the team’s defensive press helped it take command. The press made the Jaguars unsteady, and their ball control suffered. This helped the Wolverines create some separation, taking an 18-10 lead when the quarter ended.
To make matters worse for Southern, Michigan’s offense came out sharper in the second frame. First, sophomore guard Deja Church drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. The Jaguars tried to respond from beyond the arc, but shot an air ball instead.
Next, junior guard Akienreh Johnson drew a foul while attacking the rim. She made both shots, and then Southern got called for a 10-second backcourt violation.
This pattern continued; the Wolverines offense found the basket while their defense forced mistakes. Michigan allowed just five points in the second frame, and notched a 36-15 lead by halftime.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico mentioned that this week in practice, her team worked on scenarios in which it is up by two points but doesn’t have the ball and thus needs a stop for the win. Today, those drills paid their dividends.
“I think, you know, we can really be a great defensive team,” Barnes Arico said. “We have to continue to work at it, we have to continue to get better at it, but our kids are really buying into that mindset.”
Church and freshman forward Naz Hillmon fueled the defensive effort. Church finished with four steals and two blocks, while Hillmon notched three steals. Church also tallied a team-high 19 points.
“I think Deja — she’s obviously the personality of our team — but I think her confidence is growing and growing,” Barnes Arico said. “And she’s a kid that can impact the game for us in so many ways. … I’m just proud of the player that she’s becoming.”
The rest of the game was much of the same, except that the Wolverines started pushing the tempo on offense more. There were numerous cross-court passes and transition buckets. The Jaguars simply couldn’t keep up.
The are still areas for improvement. For instance, Michigan’s touch around the rim was a bit sloppy in the first frame. The Wolverines didn’t hesitate to lob the ball to the paint, but often failed to convert from underneath the rim. There were missed layups, too. But Michigan grabbed a stellar seven offensive rebounds in that quarter and made use of the second-chance opportunities to compensate.
And while the Wolverines caused 32 total turnovers, they committed 12 of their own in the first half.
“Obviously that was a point of emphasis at halftime, is really taking care of the basketball. And I thought we locked in and we did a much better job in the second half,” Barnes Arico said, after her team committed just six turnovers after halftime. “We need to put two halves together, taking care of the basketball, and that’s something we work on every day in practice. … I think that’s a sign of inexperience, because we are improving on that area of practice, and it doesn’t always immediately translate to the game. Once we settle down I think we do a much better job, but the first five minutes of the game the ball is really loose for us.”
Overall, though, Michigan aced the final leg of a week filled with tests.
“It’s like the athlete’s dream — playing in a game with no school and not having to worry about like waking up, studying or anything,” Church said. “ … It’s all fun. It’s just basketball right now.”