It wasn’t pretty for the Michigan women’s basketball team Sunday, but, as they have each of the previous eight games, the Wolverines found a way to win. Michigan beat Wisconsin 54-43 at the Crisler Center to extend its winning streak to nine and to improve upon its best start in program history.
“Golly that was ugly,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “But we’ve said multiple times to this point, an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.”
It took the Wolverines (3-0 Big Ten, 14-2 overall) 6:33 to hit their first field goal, and by then, the Badgers led 9-0. The basket came from senior guard Jenny Ryan and was quickly followed by a turnover by Wisconsin (0-3, 8-9) and a jump shot on the other end from senior center Rachel Sheffer.
Little did Michigan know, those four points would be almost a quarter of the points scored in the first half by the Wolverines, who produced their second-lowest scoring half this season with just 19 points.
In the first 12 minutes of play, Michigan shot a measly 16.7 percent from the field. The Badgers’ offense, though, was no better, ending the half shooting 33 percent from the field.
“Wisconsin really exposed us offensively,” Barnes Arico said. “They did a tremendous job on the defensive end. I was happy we were able to make (some) plays in the second half and come from behind which is something we haven’t had to do much all year.”
In the second half, the Wolverines were unable to clean up their offensive slump, but they did just enough to get by. Shooting 48 percent in the second half, and making all ten free throws, Michigan was able to rally.
Leading the way was Ryan, who stole the show with a huge 3-pointer six and a half minutes into the half. Ryan ended the game with a career high 19 points while adding four steals; she was the only player in double digits for Michigan and played the entire game. Overall, the Wolverines ended the game shooting 38 percent from the field.
“The thing about Jenny is that she is so smart that she knows (when) nobody else is scoring, (and) nobody else is looking to score (she) knows (she) needs to step up and needs to make plays,” Barnes Arico said. “Tonight she knew that we needed her to score, and she did what she had to do to help us find a way to win. She was incredible tonight.
“We have a group of seniors that really dedicated themselves. They (were) here all summer really working on trying to create something special. They deserve all the credit and I kind of want them to enjoy the moment but not get caught up in it.”
The success of the seniors has been the story for this team all season. When Michigan starts out slow, its seniors pick up the pieces. Responsible for 80 percent of the Wolverines’ offense, the five seniors have led this team all season. In the first half 18 of Michigan’s 19 points came from the seniors — the lone point belonged to sophomore guard Brenae Harris. Overall the seniors accounted for 44 of the 54 points scored on Sunday.
Through the first 15 games of the season, Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage at 47 percent and third nationally in 3-point field-goal percentage at 41-percent. The Badgers were able to contain Michigan’s red-hot offense by forcing the Wolverines to use most of the shot clock during their possessions. In the first half, Michigan hit just one 3-pointer on seven attempts and ended the game with a season low two 3-pointers on 13.3-percent shooting.
Senior forward Kate Thompson, who normally leads the way on the offensive side of the court, was held scoreless in the first half. She ended the game with just six points on the day on 20-percent shooting, well below her season average of 16 points per game, on 48-percent shooting. Thompson did not hit her first field goal until nine minutes into the second half.
The slow offenses of both teams made way for the defenses to steal the show. As they have been all season, the Wolverines were plagued by turnovers, committing seven in the first 10 minutes of play and 14 overall. Ryan committed six. Michigan was able to compensate for missed shots and turnovers with its quickness to get back on defense.
“As much as we talk about Wisconsin’s defense, our defense really kept us in the game because we weren’t scoring so we had to get stops the other way,” Barnes Arico said. “(But when) we weren’t scoring at least they weren’t scoring. So I felt a little bit better about that.”
Added Ryan: “Luckily our conditioning kind of came through, and we were able to get up and down the court a little bit more. We just settled in. The first half we just couldn’t really find a rhythm, none of our shots were going in. I think at halftime we talked about making a new day, and that’s what we did.”
The rebounding battle and the overall defensive stand kept Michigan alive when it was unable to find the basket. The Wolverines out rebounded the Badgers 20-15 in the first half and 35-27 overall.