In the Michigan women’s basketball team’s Big Ten Tournament matchup against Iowa, the Hawkeyes used a steady diet of hard cuts off of passes to draw fouls in the first quarter. Iowa kept doing it — rinse, lather, repeat — until junior guard Siera Thompson fell victim early, picking up her first foul and checking out of the game soon thereafter.
Fouls have plagued Michigan all season long, and in coach Kim Barnes Arico’s interview with Inside Michigan Basketball on Monday, that’s exactly what the discussion focused on — mainly keeping players from picking up fouls and when to take them out of games.
In the matchup against the Hawkeyes, it was especially unusual for Thompson to pick up a healthy dose of fouls. She averages just two per game and is touted as the Wolverines’ best defender, counted on to shut down her opponent without fouling. But as soon as she put her hands up to defend, the whistle blew. After the point guard and team captain headed to the bench, Michigan’s dynamic was never the same.
Sometimes, when players pick up fouls, they’ll tell their coach to keep them in and to trust them, wanting to continue playing for their team. Ultimately for Barnes Arico, it’s her decision, based on a player’s experience and prowess for evading foul trouble.
“I think it depends on the person,” Barnes Arico said. “With (freshman center) Hallie Thome, when she picks up her first foul, we take her right out of the way because we know they’re attacking her right away. She’s young, she’s a freshman.
“When we have (Thompson) who plays that many minutes for us, we’re a totally different team without her. She’s a junior, she’s averaged 36 minutes in her career since she stepped onto campus running the team for us. So when she’s not in the game, we’re a really different team.”
Barnes Arico was hoping Thompson would be able to avoid Iowa’s goal of drawing fouls on her and that her point guard would stay out of foul trouble like she has all season. Thompson’s defense has been invaluable all season, shutting down or slowing the progress of stars like Minnesota guard Rachel Banham, who set a Big Ten record with 60 points in another game this season. But Thompson, and therefore the rest of the team, did not recover Thursday.
“It’s really important that you know your team,” Barnes Arico said. “With Siera, I thought she was going to be OK. We switched her matchup, we took her off their best player, and they were experienced and went at her and that really hurt us.”
The outing was a fluke for Thompson. It’s usually the Michigan bigs like Thome and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell who find themselves in foul trouble, coming out of the game when their presence is needed the most. With the WNIT on the horizon, the Wolverines have been working on defense and breakdown drills to play more aggressively without the ball and without fouling.
For Michigan to make a deep run in the WNIT, it’ll need to be mentally tough to avoid picking up fouls that can be prevented. There’s a lot more that the Wolverines can improve upon, such as cutting down on turnovers and maintaining leads, but the confidence can start with preventing fouls. Michigan is determined to work on it, because even if it’s not where it would like to be at this point in the season, there is still more basketball to play.