This was a game the Michigan women’s basketball team needed, yet played like it didn’t even want.
After dropping two of its last three Big Ten matchups, the Wolverines can’t blame Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota on a short week. They also can’t claim they lost at the hands of a superior Golden Gopher team.
When all the excuses are put aside, this game stung a little extra.
Michigan (5-3 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) allowed a season-high 82 points and turned the ball over 12 times in Minneapolis. Sophomore guard Rachel Banham dominated the game for Minnesota (3-5, 14-8), finishing with a career-high 31 points. The Golden Gophers, who entered the game ranked eighth in the Big Ten, abused the Wolverines’ paper-thin defense and routed Michigan, 82-67.
Three players finished in double-digits for Michigan, including senior guard Kate Thompson, who led the offense with 18 points. If there is a silver lining in the loss to Minnesota, it may be Thompson’s 5-for-8 shooting performance from beyond the arc, where she has undoubtedly struggled in the past few games. Senior forward Rachel Sheffer nearly completed another double-double, adding 17 points and nine rebounds.
But it wasn’t the Wolverines’ offense that failed to show up. Rather, it was a lackluster defensive performance that allowed the Golden Gophers to control the game throughout. Michigan gave up a season-high 43 points in the first half, despite allowing 51.2 points per game entering the evening. Minnesota shot an impressive 59.3 percent from the floor, while finding relative ease scoring the ball within the paint.
Banham was sensational, shooting 6-of-8 from 3-point range while slicing her way through the Wolverines’ backcourt. Two other Golden Gophers finished in double digits, including junior forward Micaella Riche and redshirt freshman Kayla Hirt. Riche and Hirt contributed 15 and 10 points, respectively.
Minnesota got off to a hot start, hitting five of its first seven shots to start the game. Thompson’s shooting kept Michigan within the game, but it could not slow down Banham’s production. After allowing 11 points off of seven turnovers in the first half, the Wolverines found themselves trailing, 43-39, heading into the break.
Michigan again started in a 2-3 zone to begin the second half, but the defense was simply ineffective. The Golden Gophers took advantage of the sluggish pace, continually fending off the Wolverines’ attempt to grab the lead. After a 7-0 run that brought Michigan within a point, Minnesota responded with its own 7-0 run, putting an end to the Wolverines’ hopes.
While they didn’t win the war, Michigan did win two battles in the game. The Wolverines scored 18 bench points, 10 of which came from freshman guard Madison Ristovski. After shooting 4-of-5 from the field, Ristovski tallied a career high in points. Michigan also bested the Golden Gophers on the boards, where the Wolverines grabbed 29 rebounds.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier for Michigan, as it heads to East Lansing on Monday to face a hungry Spartan squad. With all the excuses of last week put aside, the Wolverines now have yet another opportunity to get back on track against their conference rival.