For the No. 24 Michigan women’s basketball team, an unexpected area of the game led it to a 75-61 victory over George Mason on Friday night: rebounding.
The Wolverines accumulated a whopping 54 offensive and defensive rebounds, compared to the 26 total for the Patriots. Junior center Hallie Thome finished with a game-high 12 boards, and senior forward Jillian Dunston wasn’t far behind with 10 of her own. It was clear that Michigan had focused its energy on that phase at the outset of the season.
“Since our exhibition game, that’s been a big emphasis in practice, so that was a key thing we knew we needed to do to be able to win the game tonight,” Thome said. “When they had their exhibition game against West Virginia, they rebounded a lot. So we knew we had to take advantage of the boards.”
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico reiterated that emphasis, but also noted a heightened effort to take better care of the ball.
“That was something we emphasized the last four or five days of practice and the other was taking care of the ball and limiting our turnovers,” Barnes said. “We were one for two, so now we have to make sure we continue to improve on that before Sunday. But I was proud of the way we rebounded the basketball.”
Though they started off strong with a lead in the first quarter, the Wolverines fell just slightly behind in the second quarter. Barnes Arico called a timeout as soon as the team was behind by a couple of points.
Michigan quickly bounced back in response, with an 11-point run immediately following the timeout.
“I think that sometimes in those spots they just need to know that it’s going to be okay, they just need to settle down and play like we’re capable of playing and things will start clicking,” Barnes said. “We needed to turn it up, we were getting out-worked at that point and that’s something we don’t stand for, so I think that when we went back out there we were able to turn it up.”
After that slight setback, the Wolverines were off and running. They maintained that lead for the rest of the game, and then added on another run in the fourth quarter to cap off the 14-point victory.
“That gave us a lot of momentum,” said senior guard Katelynn Flaherty. “I think that gave us and a lot of the underclassmen confidence.”
After their season opener, the Wolverines are looking for continued improvement throughout the rest of the year, particularly in the areas that have already proven to be troublesome.
“I think we will continue to get better, that’s our goal each and every single day,” Barnes Arico said. “We don’t put a number at the end of the year, we want to be the best Michigan team that we can be.”