Michigan sweeps Akron Classic to improve to 4-0; Other notes around Big Ten

COLLEGE PARK, MD - JANUARY 19: Head coach Kim Barnes Arico of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during a women's college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at the XFinity Center on January 19, 2017 in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins won 83-70. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
COLLEGE PARK, MD - JANUARY 19: Head coach Kim Barnes Arico of the Michigan Wolverines looks on during a women's college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at the XFinity Center on January 19, 2017 in College Park, Maryland. The Terrapins won 83-70. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

Michigan stays undefeated

Michigan remained tied atop of the Big Ten standings this weekend — sitting at 4-0 — after handing a pair of non-conference opponents their respective first losses at the Akron Classic.

After moving up one spot in the AP Poll this week to No. 24, Michigan dominated Kent State on Friday, 88-53, turning a 16-12 deficit after the first quarter into a six point halftime advantage. The Wolverines eventually used a 31-14 third period to create enough separation to ensure the win.

The game featured a breakout scoring performance by senior and Toledo, Ohio native Akienreh Johnson, who turned in a career-high 21 points. Johnson, who’s tenure at Michigan has been hampered by injuries — 2 ACL tears and a broken hand — shot the ball at an efficient 9-for-12 clip, including 2-for-2 from behind the arc. Coach Kim Barnes Arico has talked at length this year about Johnson’s “perseverance.”

“I was just so happy that [Johnson] didn’t get frustrated & lose her confidence,” said Barnes Arico after the game. “It’s nice when you can come back to your home state & get 21 and 8. She is drawing fouls, doing a little bit of everything. She was so deserving of a game like this.”

Michigan posted impressive field goal percentages up and down the roster, finishing the game collectively at 55% overall and 53% from three-point range. Sophomore Naz Hillmon contributed 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting and nine rebounds. Senior Kayla Robbins scored nine points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Kent State shot just 32% from the field and 19% from downtown, with nobody on the roster tallying more than 12 points. The Flashes were previously 2-0 entering the contest, having already defeated Duquesne and Youngstown State.

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The Wolverines faced a significantly more arduous path to victory the next day, tested by a relentless Akron team. After establishing a 25-12 lead in the first quarter, Michigan allowed the Zips — who also entered their game the game 2-0 on the season — to gradually chip away and eventually build a three point lead entering the fourth quarter.

The Wolverines began the final frame with a 14-3 burst to establish an eight-point lead they would never relinquish. They won the fourth quarter 25-13 en route to an 80-71 victory and a perfect 4-0 start to the season.

Hillmon followed up her impressive performance on Friday with a career high on Saturday, pouring in 28 points on 9-for-12 shooting from the field and 10-for-11 from the free throw line against Akron. For the Cleveland native, the accuracy from the line is particularly impressive and represents a drastic improvement from the 63% mark she posted as a freshman. Hillmon’s made 16 of 18 attempts thus far this year, an 89% mark.

Three other Wolverines scored in double figures on Saturday. Senior Kayla Robbins posted 12 points, sophomore Amy Dilk chipped in 11 points, six rebounds and six assists, and junior Hailey Brown scored 10 points, including two crucial fourth-quarter three-pointers to put the game out of reach.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Akron posed the biggest threat to Michigan’s early stretch of success this season, as this was the Wolverines’ first true “road” contest — the Zips were hosting the Akron Classic.

“We had to do it on the defensive end,” said Barnes Arico. “I was proud we were able to come together and be in that position in a rowdy environment on someone else’s home court to pull away that victory.”

This is the second consecutive season the Wolverines have started 4-0, as they won their first five contests last year before falling to #10 Texas on Nov. 24, 2018. The toughest test to the legitimacy of Michigan’s national ranking will come on Saturday, as Notre Dame travels to Ann Arbor. The Fighting Irish risk falling out of the AP poll this week, having lost at home twice to unranked Tennessee and No. 16 Michigan State.

Notable Around the Conference

No. 8 Maryland rebounded from their disappointing home loss to South Carolina last weekend by picking up a pair of wins. The Terrapins battled back from a 19-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat James Madison, 70-68, on the road on Wednesday before throttling Delaware at home on Sunday afternoon, 99-55.

Sixteenth-ranked Michigan State picked up one of the best wins in recent program history, defeating the #15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend on Saturday, 72-69. Sophomore Nia Clouden broke through for a career-high 28 points in what was a statement victory for Suzy Merchant’s team against a women’s college basketball “blue blood.”

Northwestern improved to 3-0 with a quality 63-42 road win against Duke on Sunday. Junior Lindsey Pulliam continued her torrent start to the season, adding 26 points on the day — she’s now scored 69 points through her first three games of the year.

Minnesota has rebounded nicely from their season-opening home loss to Missouri State, rattling off three straight victories since. The most impressive of which came on Sunday afternoon, 80-66 against 19th-ranked Arizona State. Junior Destiny Pitts led the way for the Gophers, scoring 22 points.

Bad Losses

Ohio State suffered a disappointing loss at home on Sunday to Ohio, 74-68. This was OSU’s first defeat of the year after routing Valparaiso by 51 at home and securing an overtime victory at Cincinnati.

Iowa was handily defeated on the road by Northern Iowa, 88-66, on Sunday. It was the Hawkeyes’ first loss of the season.

Penn State dropped to 2-2 on Sunday after relinquishing an 18-point fourth-quarter advantage at home against La Salle, losing 69-67 at the Bryce Jordan Center.

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