No. 14 IU women’s basketball has an opportunity to move up in the Big Ten standings with a statement win at 6 p.m. Thursday when it returns to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to face No. 11 Michigan.
The Wolverines (12-1, 7-1) and Hoosiers (13-4, 11-2) are second and third, respectively, in the conference standings and could easily cross paths next month in both the Big Ten and NCAA women’s tournaments.
Michigan ended its COVID-19 pause last Thursday with a 62-49 road win over Purdue in its first game since Jan. 21. The Wolverines also played Tuesday evening, making Thursday’s game with the Hoosiers their third in the last week. IU head coach Teri Moren, however, said that’s just Michigan getting back in the rhythm it needs to be in.
“They’re in catch-up mode with these games that they’re playing, and at the end of it they may be at the top of this league, which is incredibly tough,” Moren said of Michigan. “They’re well rested and probably not beat up like some of us.”
The Wolverines are led by preseason conference Co-Player of the Year and All-Big Ten selection Naz Hillmon. The junior forward averages 26.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game and scored a program-record 50 points in a January loss to Ohio State.
Michigan’s next leading scorer is junior guard/forward Leigha Brown, a Nebraska transfer whom IU is familiar with from the last two seasons. Brown had been sidelined with an injury entering the three-week shutdown but scored 20 points in both games this past week.
“She’s a handful, as well as Naz,” Moren said of Brown and Hillmon. “But then they do have really good pieces.”
Junior guard Amy Dilk, senior forward Hailey Brown and graduate guard Akienreh Johnson round out the rest of Michigan’s starting lineup.
Moren described Johnson as “the glue piece” that’s well-rounded and Dilk as a balanced, pass-first point guard, but she is most intrigued by the challenges Hailey Brown will pose. Moren said Hailey Brown typically guards the opposing center, so she anticipates a fun matchup down low with sophomore forward Mackenzie Holmes.
“Although they haven’t played a lot of games because of their pause and, again, out of their control circumstances, there’s still obviously a lot of talent over there,” Moren said. “When it’s all said and done, they’re gonna be right there because they’re really good.”
Once IU plays Michigan, the only Big Ten opponent it will have yet to play is Rutgers.
The Hoosiers and Scarlet Knights had their matchup in Bloomington postponed on two occasions, but Moren said she’s confident that game will get played. For that to happen, however, the Big Ten may need to do some serious shuffling of its schedule.
“Ultimately what they’d like to see is that everybody have an opportunity to play each other at least once, so you may not get your doubles in,” Moren said. “I don’t know what they’ll do towards the end of our season, if they’ll eliminate one of those games and try to slide the Rutgers game in there so they feel like it’s even.”