Louisville, Ky. – Michigan’s start to the NCAA Tournament was more thorough than coach Kim Barnes Arico expected.
Which is saying something for someone who has yet to lose an opener.
Naz Hillmon scored 17 points off the bench, Nicole Munger and Kayla Robbins each added 13 and the eighth-seeded Wolverines shot a season-high 56 percent to run away from No. 9 seed Kansas State 84-54 on Friday.
Michigan’s 17-5 surge over 5:10 in the second quarter provided a 43-28 halftime lead that expanded to as many as 37 late in the fourth. The Wolverines (22-11) owned rebounding 50-19 – including a 33-13 gap defensively – and paint scoring 52-26 while holding the Wildcats (21-12) to 36 percent shooting.
Michigan’s bench also outscored K-State 38-9. Barnes Arico had to get her mind around the Wolverines’ dominance against just about every defense K-State threw at them.
“We were locked into the scout (report),” said Barnes Arico, who is 8-0 in openers on the Division I and II levels. “We know they switch things up defensively and we knew it was something we don’t typically face. We have a couple of days to prepare for it, and I thought our kids did a tremendous job of coming out, moving the basketball, finding the open person and making extra passes.”
Not surprisingly, Hillmon provided the spark that helped earn her selection by media as Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The 6-foot-2 forward was strong on both ends as she made 8 of 10 from the field and grabbed 10 rebounds in 21 minutes.
That was key in helping Michigan achieve its second-highest board total this season.
“We don’t want any team to get second-chance points,” Hillmon said, referring to Michigan’s 17-4 advantage in that category. We know how that can affect the game, so we were trying to lock in on offensive and defensive rebounds.”
Munger and Robbins combined to make 11 of 18 shots while Deja Church added 12 points and a team-high seven assists.
Michigan shot well and hit 16 of 26 after halftime on the way to winning its 10th in 12 contests.
“Today, we just stayed focused,” Church said. “Whether we were up 10 (points), 20, we really didn’t think about it. We just looked at the score (as) 0-0 and kept pushing.”
Christianna Carr had 21 points and Rachel Ranke 11 for Kansas State, which committed 17 turnovers leading to 26 Michigan points. The Wildcats’ rebounding total marked a season low.
“They just whooped us on the glass for second and third chances, which was a problem,” Wildcats coach Jeff Mittie said. “Not very competitive on the glass today.”
Michigan will face top-seeded Louisville in Sunday’s second round. The Cardinals routed No. 16 seed Robert Morris 69-34 in the first game.