After two straight losses to ranked teams, Michigan came out guns blazing on Tuesday afternoon. With quick inside points and a defense that confounded Penn State, nothing was going to stop its enthusiasm.
The mistakes that plagued the Wolverines the last two games disappeared on their way to an 82-48 victory over the Nittany Lions (6-7 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) where Michigan (10-3, 1-1) looked unstoppable for long stretches.
The Wolverines made a point early on to feed the beast on the inside, sophomore forward Naz Hillmon. After quiet starts to both the prior games, she scored eight points in the first quarter, taking advantage of mismatches inside.
“Any time you have a player like Naz on your team you want to make sure she gets some early touches because she draws so much attention to herself,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “So I thought we did a great job of that and I thought we were able to get some shots to fall during the course of the game.”
Senior forward Kayla Robbins continued to showcase impressive effort on both sides of the ball, getting on the court and fighting for every ball. She also found the lane, driving to the basket and cutting through the Nittany Lions on her way to another solid game, scoring 12 and coming down with seven rebounds.
In the first quarter, Robbins scored the first 3-pointer of the game for Michigan — adding a much-needed dimension to its offense that was missing in its last few games.
“We had been struggling lately and we knew we had some great shooters in Hailey (Brown) and Michelle (Sidor) and Danielle (Rauch) and Emily (Kiser),” Barnes Arico said. “I mean we had some really good shooters that were struggling, so that was really just keep getting your shots up in practice, get your confidence going and our shots will fall.”
A big part of the Wolverines’ 3-point shooting throughout the season has been junior forward Brown, whose cold drought from beyond the arc ended in the second quarter, when she nailed two in quick succession on her way to eight points in the quarter.
Her hot streak continued through the second half on her way to a team-leading 15 points
“That’s what she does,” said sophomore guard Amy Dilk. “That’s a big part of her game. It’s a big boost for us, it’s a big plus for us to have a four being able to knock down threes like that. I’m super happy for her to finally be back in her rhythm so it was great to see (Brown) knock down some shots.”
While Michigan’s offense was having its way with Penn State, the defense smothered it on nearly every possession.
Pushing the Nittany Lions deep into the shot clock for all of their possessions, the Wolverines forced them to run in circles to try and find space, which they ultimately couldn’t. They shot 31 percent from the field and most of their shots that fell were contested. Michigan also forced 23 turnovers, scoring 29 points in the stolen possessions.
Robbins, who was a big part of the oppressive defense, drew three offensive fouls in the first half alone, including a massive charge in the midst of one of the Wolverines’ runs — prompting the officials to cite the team with a delay of game warning after every member of the team on the bench jumped out on the court on the way to a media timeout.
“We always strive to make enthusiastic plays and have our bench be enthusiastic,” Dilk said. “It gets the fans engaged. We feed off each other’s energy, so starting off a game like that, that’s a big part of our team, to start a game like that and have each other’s backs and congratulating them.”
The outburst came from a team that finally worked through the frustrations it experienced in the prior games. A team that got its mojo back, that enjoyed itself.