- Sep 9, 2015
- Reaction score
CHANGING ON THE FLY
Last Spring, Michigan’s Kim Barnes Arico had things rolling in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines (9-1), earned their third consecutive trip to the NCAAs, advancing to the Sweet 16. Along the way, Michigan defeated FGCU 87-66 and Tennessee 70-55 before bowing to Baylor 75-78 in OT.
It was a payoff for a taxing, covid dominated year. In the middle of the conference season, Michigan went almost three weeks without playing a game and, like most teams, the lineup took the occasional, random hit. Nevertheless, the Maize and Blue finished 9-4 in the B1G and proved up to post season competition.
With both a return to normality on the horizon and the return of Michigan’s first All American, Naz Hillmon, Kim Barnes Arico decided to mess with the special sauce. Out went the old coaching staff and in came a new one. She said it was something she learned from former Michigan men’s head coach, John Beilein.
“I knew it was time,” Barnes Arico said. “It was time for people to take new steps, to work in different programs, to get head coaching positions.”
That’s what happened. Toyelle Wilson became head coach at SMU, Yvonne Sanchez moved on to an assistant job at Arizona State and Wesley Brooks became an Ohio State assistant.
They were replaced by Val Nainima, Carrie Moore and Harry Rafferty who are in early stages of their coaching careers. Barnes Arico believes they’ve injected new life into the Wolverines.
“The energy, the enthusiasm, the knowledge that they are bringing to practice every day has been absolutely incredible,” Barnes Arico said at Big Ten basketball media days.
Then, in the season opener against Horizon League champ, IUPUI, the basketball gods proved indifferent to the "energy and enthusiasm" emanating from Crisler Arena. A minute into the game the Wolverines starting point guard, Amy Dilk, went up for a rebound and came down with her left foot catching the side of Hillmon’s shoe. Dilk’s left knee took an ugly twist as she fell to the floor. After the leg was immobilized, she was helped off the court. Dilk has not returned to the lineup; even though the injury was later described as day to day.
Leigha Brown, a second team all B1G selection last season, came off the bench replacing Dilk. Brown pumped in 18 points augmenting Naz Hillmon’s 30; but IUPUI managed to send the contest to overtime tied at 58. Michigan overcame a five-minute scoring drought spanning the end of regulation and the start of OT to win 67-62.
In the next game versus St. Francis, Brown moved into the starting lineup. Then, two minutes later, Brown limped off the court and into the locker room favoring her left leg. She did not return. Brown sat out the next two games before returning to play in the win over Oregon State. She started against Louisville; but otherwise came off the bench.
When the Wolverines traveled to Central Michigan for their fourth outing, Dilk, Brown and Hillmon (non-covid illness) were unavailable. However, other players seized the opportunity to bring home a win. 6’3” senior Emily Kiser, one of two Wolverine to start every game, led Michigan with 16. She also had 8 rebounds and three assists. Another senior who has started every game is 5’8” guard Danielle Rauch. Rauch had 13 points against the Chippewas. And, the highly recruited freshman guard Laila Phelia, came off the bench for 12 points and 6 rebounds.
The one blemish on the Wolverines record is a loss at Louisville. It was a rather unsightly outing with Michigan getting shoved around the KFC YUM! Center. The Wolverine’s starting lineup was Hillmon, Kiser, Rauch, Brown and Maddie Nolan. But the Wolverines couldn’t get out of their own way committing 24 turnovers and going 2-15 from three. It was a 48-70 Cardinal romp.
Michigan has played twice since Louisville and both have been comfortable if not awe inspiring wins. The Wolveines ran past Akron and outlasted Wisconsin. The starting lineup, still without Dilk, appears to be stabilizing. More important, Michigan is a physical team with inside power that keeps playing toward the hoop. The Gopher posts will get a workout.
6’2” senior forward Naz Hillmon is the anchor and needs little introduction. Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year is averaging 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
Joining Hillmon in the starting lineup are:
6’1” Sr Leigha Brown is a terrific wing player averaging 12.4 points and 2 rebounds in 22.5 minutes of play. She has not been at full strength. Last season, Brown averaged 33.6 minutes and 18.2 points per game. However, she had an excellent outing against Wisconsin racking up 13 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 29 minutes. I doubt the Gophers are going to get a break on Sunday.
Last season the 6’3” Emiley Kiser backed up Naz Hillmon and never started. This season, Kiser’s rebounding and defensive play has her starting alongside and taking some of the pressure off Hillmon. Kiser is averaging 30.2 minutes per game with 10.9 points and 8.0 rebounds.
6’0” freshman guard Laila Phelia got her first start of the season against Akron and her second against Wisconsin. She’s made a quick move up the depth chart and added some speed to mix.
“(Phelia’s) having an unbelievable freshman season,” Barnes Arico said after the Akron game. “I think she just gives us something that we don’t have. Her explosiveness to the basket, her ability to get in the lane, her ability to finish at the rim, and plus her defensive ability.”
Danielle Rauch a 5’8” senior guard has taken over Dilk’s point guard duties. She’s averaging 32.3 minutes per game with 8.1 points and 3.3 rebounds. Rauch is also 15-30 from three.
Others of note:
Maddie Nolan: a 5’11” junior guard is an adequate defensive player who also is the Wolverines prime three-point threat (19-45).
“Maddie’s an exceptional shooter,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the UMass Lowell game. “And we’ve kind of, me personally, have been on her a little bit all week because I thought she got hesitant in our IUPUI game after she missed a couple of shots. And we really need her to be aggressive and look to shoot the ball and score the basketball.
I also must note the 6’4” Izabel Varejao who is only averaging 4.3 minutes per game; but they are memorable, physical minutes. She scored 7 points against the Badgers.
The Wolverines are poised to keep their NCAA streak alive even as the coaching staff and players learn each other’s names.
Both scheduled meetings were canceled by Covid.
Minnesota holds the series edge 35-30; but Michigan has won 5 of the last 6. The last Gopher win was 93-87 in February 2018.
MICHIGAN RECORD (9-1):
Wins: IUPUI 67-62 OT, St Francis Brooklyn 82-46, UMass Lowell 73-54, @ Central Michigan 69-45, Oakland 69-58, (N) Oregon State 61-52, (N) Mississippi State 64-48, Akron 93-54 and Wisconsin 93-81
Losses: @ Louisville 48-70
Naz Hillmon Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul Oakland 25 11 0 24 3 Oregon State 12 8 1 36 2 Mississippi State 18 10 2 37 3 Louisville 12 8 1 37 2 Akron 18 3 5 23 3 Wisconsin 21 6 5 35 5
Leigha Brown Last Six Games:
Team Pts Reb Asst Min Foul St Francis 2 0 2 2 0 Oregon State 14 3 0 22 3 Mississippi State 23 5 3 25 4 Louisville 7 1 1 30 3 Akron 10 3 2 13 2 Wisconsin 13 6 5 29 1
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 6’2” F Sr Naz Hillmon 32.8 20.2 8.6 6’1” G Sr Leigha Brown 22.9 12.4 2.9 6’3” F Sr Emily Kiser 30.2 10.8 8.0 6’0” G Fr Laila Phelia 22.0 7.0 2,8 5’8” G Sr Danielle Rauch 32.3 8,1 3.3
HGT POS YR PLAYER MIN AVG REB 5’11” G Jr Maddie Nolan 28.2 7,8 4,2 5’9” G Jr Michelle Sidor 12.1 2.7 1.3 6’3” F So Cameron Williams 7.9 2.8 1.6 6’1” G/F So Elise Stuck 8.6 1.7 2.7 6’4”” C Jr Izabel Varejao 4.5 2.0 0.5