Two weeks ago, against then-No. 23 Northwestern, Michigan learned a hard lesson: In the Big Ten, if you don’t start well, you don’t win.
In their three games since then, the Wolverines have taken that lesson to the max — establishing dominant leads in the first quarter of every game. Monday’s matchup in Minnesota was no different as Michigan (16-7 overall, 7-5 Big Ten) leapt out to a nine point lead over the Golden Gophers (15-9, 5-8) and never looked back, winning 77-52.
With freshman guard Maddie Nolan starting her second game in a row due to a hand injury to sophomore guard Danielle Rauch, Minnesota swiftly targeted her with its own freshman guard, Jasmine Powell. Making her fifth start of the season, Powell caught fire early, dicing up Nolan on the way to the rim.
Powell proved to be a daunting task for any defender, however, hitting a trio of first half 3-pointers and slicing through traffic for quick layups. Her 17 first-half points proved a thorn in Michigan’s side, teasing the idea of a comeback should it make a mistake.
The Gophers, though, couldn’t get anyone else going. Only two other players scored points, leaving them limping into the half deeply frustrated.
“(Powell) had a great first half and she had 17 points, and we were a little upset about that, but considering we held their team to 26, we were really happy about that,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “I thought our post did a tremendous job on their post play, just a great job defensively.”
The Wolverines’ four most experienced players quickly found themselves in foul trouble, all getting to three apiece midway through the third quarter. On a roster with just nine healthy players, foul trouble threatened to bring down the game plan like a house of cards.
Michigan’s house, though, stood strong no matter what the Gophers threw at it. Foul trouble aside, every single player that dressed put together a performance that left Minnesota in the dust.
Starting with assists, the Wolverines achieved a season-high 25, with Dilk dishing out eight and sophomore forward Naz Hillmon and Nolan each contributing five. All that while tackling a focus area of cutting down on turnovers — having just seven.
“That’s outstanding, that’s obviously a season high for us for sure, and I thought we did a tremendous job of taking care of the ball,” Barnes Arico said. “That’s something we’ve been trying to get better at through the course of the year, and I thought it all started obviously with our point guard Dilk. She led the charge, she was tremendous tonight, she did a great job for us.”
Dilk and Hillmon, exhibiting their tag team at its most dangerous, also contributed 22 and 21 points, respectively, despite being given discounted minutes in the blowout victory.
“When you have a teammate like Hillmon who draws so much attention to her, and she’s able to score out of that or pass out of that,” Dilk said. “I don’t know how many assists she had, but she’s been averaging a lot because she can pass. And we have guards like us that can cut off that, so that’s what we did tonight, and we found it to be very successful.”
A blowout that happened because Michigan was able to close the game out. Unlike the previous three games, the Wolverines wrapped an iron-clad grip on the victory, shutting down any chance for Minnesota to find a way back in the game.
Michigan’s role players set the perfect harmony for its stars’ melody. It started well and it finished even better.