Michigan women’s basketball coach Kim Barnes Arico has coached 210 halves in her three-plus years in Ann Arbor, but she hadn’t seen a 20-minute stretch as impressive as the first half of her team’s game against Xavier on Thursday.

Now, Barnes Arico needs to figure out how she can extend the momentum from that win further into the season.

The challenge will begin when the Wolverines (3-0) face South Carolina Upstate (4-1) Monday night.

Barnes Arico credits Michigan’s inspired performance against the Musketeers to the team’s aggressive mentality. In all three games so far, the Wolverines have proven to be more energetic and physical than their opponents, and that has sparked a number of notable performances from younger players.

“I think they’re driven, they’re passionate, and they want to be great players,” Barnes Arico said. “We spend an enormous amount of time doing the extra things. In three games, we’ve scored over or close to 90 points. It’s because of all the extra stuff we’re doing.”

While playing with such high energy has worked thus far, the Wolverines start a stretch of three games in six days Monday, which will surely test the young squad’s endurance.

When Michigan welcomes the Spartans to Crisler Center, it will face one of its most difficult defensive assignments to date. Through five games, USC Upstate has scored 81 points per game, shooting 40 percent from the field.

After an inspired defensive performance against Xavier, Barnes Arico wants to see if her squad can follow up with another strong outing.

“We talked a lot this week on how we have to be better defensively,” Barnes Arico said. “We can’t just trade baskets. We have to play for longer periods of time.”

USC Upstate’s leading scorer, senior center Brittany Starling, could be the most experienced post player the Wolverines have seen so far. The 6-foot Starling currently averages a double-double and is known for her prowess on the offensive glass.

But Starling has yet to match up with another center with as large a presence as Michigan freshman center Hallie Thome.

Through the Wolverines’ opening three games, Thome has been an inside target for Michigan guards trying to work the ball into the post. At 6-foot-5, Thome has dominated her position against every opponent so far by being physical and using her height as an advantage. Thome has risen and become the Wolverines’ second-leading scorer but has yet to find consistency in grabbing rebounds and working defensively. Barnes Arico hopes the freshman can grow those areas of her game during the upcoming stretch, especially beginning with the tough assignment against Starling on Monday.

Thome’s inexperience has yet to hurt Michigan, mainly because of the effort sophomore forward Jillian Dunston has put in beside Thome in the post. Dunston is coming off her first career start and first career double-double against the Musketeers and will look to continue to build off the confidence she gained from the career performance.

“Jillian is playing so well and has stepped her game up to the next level,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s hard to keep her out of the lineup. She’s done so much and has worked on her game so much in the offseason to really deserve this opportunity to get the start.” 

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