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Wolverines unable to handle powerful Duke offense

By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Writer
Published November 28, 2012

In the opening seconds of the Michigan women’s basketball team’s game against No. 4 Duke on Wednesday, senior guard Kate Thompson dribbled near the top of the key only to be swarmed by a pair of defenders. Both reached for the ball until it was ripped away from Thompson and the whistle blew for a jump ball.

It set the tone for a 71-54 defeat in which the Wolverines were out-muscled, out-hustled and out-played from start to finish.

“I think we showed signs of being a really good team, but we just have to get that consistency,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “When you play a great team like that scoring is sometimes a problem when you turn the basketball over as many times as we did.”

Michigan’s lack of height contributed to its defeat. The Wolverines were unable to establish a presence in the paint with senior center Rachel Sheffer or senior forward Nya Jordan, who started for her first time this season. Sheffer and Jordan scored eight points despite the fact that both played for more than 30 minutes

The Blue Devils rout continued after the early jump ball, as they raced out to an early 11-2 lead. Thanks in part to Duke’s full-court pressure in the opening minutes, Michigan was left scrambling, looking to settle in and set up their strong-shooting offense.

“It’s a savvy quickness,” said senior guard Jenny Ryan. “(Duke) kind of gets you into places on the court where you don’t want to be and then they trap hard. They use their length and their athleticism really well, and I think it’s not so much quick as smart is how they get you.”

Duke continued to extend its lead throughout the first half until Ryan snapped the hot streak with back-to-back baskets. The Blue Devils took advantage of Michigan in transition, and held its biggest lead of the half at 6:41 when they doubled the Wolverines’ 17 points.

But suddenly, as if it had just awoken, Michigan fired back, as Jordan hit a bucket at 6:21 to begin a 15-1 run to close the half. Thompson hit a 3-pointer to pull within single digits with less than three minutes to go. With less than 30 seconds to go in the half, Sheffer made the score 34-32 to bring Michigan’s run to a close.

“I don’t think (Michigan) did anything differently,” said Duke coach Joanne McCallie. “When you turn the ball over four straight times you open the door a little bit.”

The Wolverines walked into the locker room at halftime down three, but they were unable to carry the momentum after the break. Michigan mustered just 22 points in the second half, half of which came with less than eight minutes to go when the game was already out of hand.

“I think to start the second half, they went back to that man (defense),” Barnes Arico said. “That really gave us our most difficult time when they were pressuring us. They were so physical, and we weren’t able to do anything. When we turned the basketball over, they got easy baskets in transition.”

Duke also returned to form at the beginning of the half, extending its lead back to 10 just three minutes in on another basket from inside the paint. The Blue Devils’ quickness continued to contribute to easy baskets in transition, making the most of the Wolverines’ lack of depth.

The Blue Devils continued their run, using a 3-pointer from Shelby Grey to make the score 52-38.

Michigan, in an effort to claw back into the game, fired shots off without taking the time to fully set up — a style of play that ultimately hurt the Wolverines.

“Our quick shots were almost the same as turnovers because our quick shots resulted in them taking off the other way,” Barnes Arico said. “When we ran the shot clock down we had more of an opportunity to set up our defense the other way.”

The game slowed down after the opening minutes of the second half, as Duke meticulously worked the ball down low. The Blue Devils also limited Michigan’s leading scorer, Kate Thompson, to just 10 points and 6-15 shooting, and Michigan’s second-leading scorer.

With 7:21 remaining, Duke opened up its biggest lead, 64-43, taking advantage of the Wolverines' 20 turnovers and 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Michigan’s lone bright spot was Ryan, who finished with a team-high 18 points and three assists. Sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad ended her night leading the team with seven rebounds.

But the Wolverines have little time to reflect on the lopsided loss, with Florida traveling to Crisler Center on Saturday.