MD

Sports

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Advertise with us »

Inability to close first half plagues Wolverines, again

James Coller/Daily
Buy this photo

By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 27, 2014

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — Several hundred orange-clad Bowling Green students who occupied 15 rows behind an entire baseline began to sing as the first half wound to a close. They sang a song familiar to Michigan fans, though perhaps not to the Michigan women’s basketball team — a tune about how they didn’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan.

The Wolverines didn’t seem particularly affected by the rowdy students, or by the hostile environment at the still-sparkling Stroh Center, Bowling Green’s two-year-old gem of an on-campus arena.

What did bother them was the same thorn that has been planted firmly in their side throughout the year — the inability to close out the first half. It’s not a new narrative — Thursday marked the fourth time this year that an opposing run at the end of the first half accounted for most of the margin in a Michigan loss. Tonight, that run gave Bowling Green a 63-53 win that knocked the Wolverines out of the WNIT, leaving them with an impressive 20-14 record in what was widely identified before the season as a transition year.

With eight minutes remaining, Michigan was deadlocked with the Falcons at 19. As junior forward Cyesha Goree picked up a charge trying to beat the buzzer on a half-court prayer, the score stood at 31-22 following a fast-paced, back-and-forth first half that escaped the Wolverines entirely in the final five minutes.

“That took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We could never get back over that hump.”

That hump gave Michigan State two wins over the Wolverines, both results that could have easily gone the other way. On Jan. 12, the Spartans broke a tie with a nine-point run to close the first half. In the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on March 7, Michigan State put together an 11-2 in the half’s final minutes to cut Michigan’s lead to three.

It happened in the non-rivalry games, too — Iowa finished the first half with an 8-2 run on Feb. 22, a game the Hawkeyes eventually won, 74-70.

“It’s definitely been a difference at times,” said junior forward Nicole Elmblad.

This time around, the Wolverines’ final eight minutes were troubled in every phase of play. The foul on Goree was her second, a completely unnecessary pickup for a player plagued by foul trouble all season.

Michigan’s shots weren’t falling, not even a wide-open, point-blank Elmblad jumper with two minutes left. Bowling Green forward Jill Stein’s layup on the next possession brought the raucous crowd to its feet.

Though the halftime deficit stood at just nine points, it became clear early in the second half that the night belonged to the home team. The only true glimmer of hope came when freshman guard Paige Rakers cut the lead to single digits on a corner 3-pointer just seconds after checking into the game. There’s no telling what might have been, had the Wolverines closed out the first half on a stronger note — while frenetic 3-point shooting from the Falcons kept the Wolverines from getting any closer, the eventual 10-point margin suggests that it could have been kept competitive throughout.

On Nov. 1, Bowling Green beat the Wolverines, 63-52, in both teams’ season opener. Tonight’s nearly identical scoreline, though, belies the tremendous growth that Barnes Arico witnessed throughout the season.

“I think our team really grew, really improved and really found its identity,” Barnes Arico said. “This team really exceeded expectations, and the kids really grew throughout the year. They did a tremendous job.”

Note: Goree’s second rebound of the game came with just over 14 minutes left broke Michigan’s all-time single-season rebounding record.

“It’s nice to know, but I’m still trying to get over this game,” Goree said. “I’ll probably be able to enjoy it once we get into working on next year.”