After a slow start, Michigan Fairfield women’s basketball is overwhelming

FAIRFIELD, Conn. — The No. 23 Michigan women’s basketball team began its first road Test against Fairfield in uncharted waters. With zero experience in a hostile environment and minimal experience playing from behind, the Wolverines gasped as the teams traded leads and baskets for most of the first half.

But despite situational inexperience that led to a slow start and sloppy play, Michigan (4-0 overall) eventually pulled ahead of the Stags (2-3) to emerge victorious 69-53.

“It was the first away game, so we just have to improve,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on Sunday. “We’ll still be a work in progress, when you’re on the road you have to learn to navigate your way defensively, which when I thought we’d managed to really establish ourselves and set the tone. ”

Fairfield drew first blood and scored five unanswered points before senior guard Maddie Nolan hit back-to-back 3-pointers to set Michigan, both assisted by fifth-year winger Leigha Brown. The remainder of the first quarter remained a tight, relatively chaotic affair as teams traded points, fouls and turnovers. A grumpy 3-pointer from sophomore guard Laila Phelia got the Wolverines up at five at the end of the first quarter, giving them a boost of energy they hoped would carry into the second.

Michigan struggled to find a breakup while the Stags struggled to keep the game tight. Fairfield seemed quicker, more alert and like the more cohesive team, while the Wolverines let travel calls and the Deer’s aggressive zone defenses influence their game. Michigan seemed nervous early on, flipping the ball repeatedly and never really building momentum. But early in the half they seemed to have found more rhythm and went into the break at 34-25, the biggest lead of the half which they quickly built up by scoring six points in the final minute.

Early in the second half, the Wolverines played as a much more cohesive unit.

“Phelia was able to win the full court and make them really uncomfortable,” Brown said. “And that kind of got passed down to the rest of the team, we really tried to get our hands on the fast track and try to contest shots.”

These clogged fast lanes resulted in forced rollovers and a significant momentum shift. Steals on three of Fairfield’s first four offensive possessions allowed Michigan’s lead to be extended into double digits for the first time. And after Brown picked up five points in less than a minute of the game, the Stags had to call a timeout less than three minutes after halftime.

But just changing the dynamic wasn’t enough—the Wolverines wanted to have their way. They forced another Fairfield turnover and their defense continued to play with an intensity that seemed lacking early in the game.

Now it was the deer’s turn to play frustrated. After her quick turnovers with two defensive fouls in a one-man press and five team fouls less than halfway through the quarter, Fairfield lost all control.

Michigan had flipped the script. Rather than being the team to get jittery with their sloppy plays, the Wolverines were able to reap the rewards of their opponents’ frustration. Michigan capitalized on those fouls when graduating forward Emily Kiser sunk 10 of 12 free throws in the second half en route to a game-high 20 points. Kiser was a thorn in the side of the Stags the entire half, drawing duplicate teams and forcing them to pay for their unnecessary fouls.

As the Wolverines continued to force Fairfield to throw the ball away, the Stags stagnated.

Michigan held Fairfield to just six points in the last six minutes of the quarter and finished the frame with eight points from nine stag turnovers. The fourth quarter saw no real change. Fairfield tried to fight back but couldn’t break the Wolverines’ 16-point lead.

“We talked about just pressuring them,” Kiser said. “… We can get up in them, they’re not used to that, … (opponents) just don’t let them comfortably.”

Although Michigan didn’t start out dominant, the Wolverines’ aggressive defense and methodical attack was ultimately too much for the Stags to overcome.


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