For a relatively young Michigan women’s basketball team, every game is another opportunity to grow.
A Thursday night trip to Kalamazoo to take on Western Michigan (1-1) is no different.
Though the Wolverines (1-0) may have Big Ten title aspirations come the end of the season, their goals are much less ambitious at the moment.
“I think the team is just focusing on getting better each and everyday,” said senior guard Nicole Munger. “We’re looking to be the best team we can be, and that’s going to take some time but everybody is enthusiastic about the process.”
Michigan is coming off a dominant home opener against Mount St. Mary’s, where its starters combined for 62 points en route to an 88-40 win. The Wolverines’ defense was a bit shaky in the first quarter, allowing Mount St. Mary’s to score nearly half their total points within the first quarter. The offense picked up the slack though. Senior center Hallie Thome, specifically, got anything she wanted.
With Michigan in control, coach Kim Barnes Arico could afford to empty the bench and give freshmen some valuable game experience. Forward Naz Hillmon scored 10 points, while guards Ariel Young and Emily Kiser pitched in four points each.
There wasn’t much to complain about from Barnes Arico’s perspective, but with some tough tests coming up at the end of November, every minute detail counts. So as Michigan turns its attention to the Broncos, the team’s focus is on starting strong.
“I think for the entire team, freshmen included, it’s important that we come out of the gates ready to play for 40 minutes,” Barnes Arico said. “I think that’s happened to us the past couple of games where we came out kinda comfortable and in the first quarter they scored a lot more baskets than we would’ve liked. Once we settle down and follow the game plan, I think we were able to stop them and really do a good job. So the goal is really to play that way for 40 minutes.”
If the Wolverines hope to accomplish this, their defense will have to be cognizant of Western Michigan’s forward Leighah-Amori Wool. The sophomore starter is averaging 18 points through the Broncos’ first two games. Though most of Western Michigan’s other contributors are experienced upperclassmen, none of them present the scoring threat that Wool does. As a result, the Michigan lineup should be well-equipped to deal with them.
The Wolverines’ length should also help their cause. Much like Mount St. Mary’s, Western Michigan’s lineup doesn’t feature a player taller than six feet — Wool being the tallest. Down low, Thome and 6-foot-2 sophomore Hailey Brown should be able to take advantage.
Following Western Michigan, Michigan will return home for a game against Detroit Mercy, before its schedule really heats up Thanksgiving weekend at the Gulf Coast Showcase.
“We’re going down to Florida to play Missouri in the opening round,” Barnes Arico said. “In that tournament, dependent on how things shake out, we can have an opportunity to play Texas and Duke too. So three top-25 programs: boom, boom, boom. Those early-season tests in the non-league will only help prepare us for league play.”
With all that said, priority number one for the Wolverines right now is their game against Western Michigan and the learning opportunity that comes with it.