The Michigan women’s basketball team came to play. Well, most of it did.
The 23rd-ranked Wolverines were going for a season sweep of Iowa (5-2 Big Ten, 16-5 overall), but were unable to repeat their success from a 68-64 victory back in Iowa City on January 6.
After starting its afternoon off with a ceremony honoring senior center Rachel Sheffer’s 1000th career point accomplishment, Michigan (5-2, 16-4) took the court against the Hawkeyes. Little did they know that would be her last highlight of Sunday's 63-57 loss.
Recently Michigan has struggled getting its offense going in the early part of games, but Sheffer had proven to be the lone bright spot, averaging 19.5 points per game in the last two games. But in today’s loss against Iowa that was anything but the case.
The Wolverines came out ready on offense and hit 41.5 percent of their shots, a significant improvement from their 35.2-percent shooting average over the last two games. But their bright spot in Sheffer ended the afternoon scoreless for the first time since her freshman year.
Instead, it was senior guard Jenny Ryan who led the way. Ryan started the game by taking the opening tip and pulling up for a quick jumper, then hustled back on defense and drew a foul, setting the tone for the aggressive style of play the Wolverines embodied until the last seven minutes of the game when they lost their spark.
“Definitely a tough one,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We had a 10 point lead in the first half. A nine point lead in the second half. It was kind of disappointing that we really weren’t able to finish things out.”
Ryan stood above the rest, particularly in the first half, having a hand in every basket in the first seven minutes of play. Whether it was an assist, rebound or basket, Ryan was at the center of the action throughout the afternoon and ended the game with a career-high 20 points on 64-percent shooting while adding four assists. Ryan’s previous career high was 19 points, which came against Wisconsin on Jan. 13.
The first half proved to be a back-and-forth struggle with both teams exchanging baskets. Michigan was unable to find its offense outside of three of its seniors — Ryan, forward Nya Jordan, and forward Sam Arnold. It was not until freshman guard Madison Ristovski hit a jumper with 2:29 left in the first half that a fourth player hit a field goal for the Wolverines.
The turning point in the first half came when Iowa grabbed the lead with 8:20 remaining. The Wolverines called a timeout and came out on an 11-0 tear that lasted over four minutes, building their largest lead of the game to 10 points. The Hawkeyes clawed back and Michigan went into halftime only up by two points.
The Wolverines opened the second half on a 7-0 run, four points of which belonged to Ryan that forced Iowa to call a timeout and collect themselves. After the timeout, the Hawkeyes hit a quick 3-pointer from guard Theairra Taylor that spurred a 10-2 run. From there, both teams exchanged shots until Iowa held Michigan without a field goal for over seven minutes. By the time the Wolverines hit a field goal only 10 seconds remained on the clock and the Hawkeyes were up by four.
“I thought it was those little plays,” Ryan said. “I thought it was the same way throughout the whole game. We (would) go on a run (and) do the things we needed to do, executed, getting the rebounds, doing all the hustle plays, and then we’d let our guard down a little bit and they’d come back.
“They just had one extra run that we didn’t have and that was the difference in the game.”
Iowa’s victory came at no surprise for the Hawkeyes who are now 6-0 against ranked oponents, but their offense came in different forms this afternoon.
Iowa’s leading scorers, senior center Morgan Johnson and senior guard Jaime Printy — who average 16.2 and 14.3 points per game respectively — were both held without a field goal until Printy hit a jump shot with 4:10 remaining in the first half. Meanwhile Johnson was held without a field goal in the first half, and ended the game with six points, a slight improvement from her abysmal showing against Wisconsin last Thursday where she only scored two points. Instead center Bethany Doolittle scored 19 points on 9-for-15 shooting.
“We did a decent job shutting down Morgan Johnson, Jaime Printy, but we let Bethany Doolittle have a great night for them,” Barnes Aric said.
Similar to the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer being shut down, Michigan’s leading scorer, senior forward Kate Thompson, was held without a field goal until she hit a long 3-pointer with 57 seconds remaining in the first half. That would be her only field goal of the game. This was Thompson’s third poor shooting game in a row. She ended with 10 points on 1-for-7 shooting.
“I thought we really couldn’t get anything going for Rachel and Kate, which really made us unsure of what we were doing offensively,” Barnes Arico said. “Any time Kate and Rachel struggle as much as they did together in one night, I think its going to be extremely difficult for us to win a game.
“Obviously Sam came in and Jenny did a tremendous job, but we need to add somebody else to that mix. We need Kate and we need Rachel to make some shots for us.”
With Michigan’s leading scorers, Thompson and Sheffer, slow on offense the other three seniors helped fill the void. The five seniors have been the story of the season accounting for 82 percent of the offense and Sunday proved no different. To go along with Ryan’s career game, Arnold ended with 12 points and Jordan ended with 10 points seven rebounds.