Longhorns impose their will against Wolverines in semifinal game
Michigan’s quick start — a string of three consecutive layups offensively — did not last. In fact, by the end of the first quarter, it was as if that two-minute spell hadn’t even happened.
Texas proceeded to rattle off 19 straight points before the Wolverines managed another basket, building up a 23-8 lead heading into the second quarter.
Michigan (4-1) never really recovered from that sequence, as the No. 10 Longhorns (5-0) staved off any sign of a comeback en route to a 69-52 win in the Gulf Coast Showcase semifinal.
Though the Wolverines were coming off a quality win against a ranked Missouri team on Friday, Texas was a class above anything they had faced so far in the young season. The Longhorns lost a few substantial players from last year’s team, but they retained multiple starters and reloaded with the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class.
Their size and talent proved too much for Michigan to overcome. The Wolverines usually match up with teams well, especially because of senior center Hallie Thome’s influence inside. This was not the case Saturday.
Texas’ 6-foot-4 starting center Jatarie White controlled the paint, rendering Thome somewhat ineffective offensively, as she finished with just eight points in 30 minutes.
“I think their physicality surprised us at first,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think we tried to go inside and they were really bumping, really being physical, really pushing us off the block. They sent double teams right away. We weren’t used to that.”
On the wings, Michigan didn’t fare much better. Both sophomore Deja Church and senior Nicole Munger struggled to find their mark, shooting 7-for-29 collectively. Alternatively, Longhorn guard Audrey Warren, a member of that highly-ranked recruiting class, poured in 15 on 6-of-9 shooting.
All of the Wolverines’ offensive struggles — chief among them being a 13.9-percent shooting clip — culminated in just six second-quarter points, which allowed the Longhorns to open up a 25-point lead heading into the locker room.
“I think it’s important, as much as we think we have an experienced team with Hallie and (Munger), there are a lot of young kids,” Barnes Arico said. “A lot of young kids are getting a lot of minutes, so I think they need to understand this is a top team in the country. This is how physical the game is going to be. If we want to be at this level, this is how we are going to need to compete.”
One of the lone bright spots for the Wolverines was the play of freshman point guard Amy Dilk, who once again showed signs of settling into her starting role. Thanks in part to her performance in the second half, Michigan clawed back late to avoid a blowout scoreline.
“I think she’s growing more and more comfortable,” Barnes Arico said. “And (she’s) understanding what the expectations are. I was really happy that she attacked the rim a little bit more and looked to be offensively aggressive.”
The Wolverines regained some semblance of confidence with their second-half performance — shooting 45.5-percent from the field.
Another positive for Michigan was the return of junior guard Akienreh Johnson from injury. Though she won’t factor into the starting lineup, she does provide a bit more depth going forward.
The Wolverines will face Washington (3-2) Sunday afternoon. The Huskies knocked off Duke in the first round of the tournament but then lost to Fordham on Saturday. Regardless, Michigan would much rather head home with two wins out of three than the alternative.
“We knew entering this tournament that we were going to have our hands full, and it was going to be challenging,” Barnes Arico added. “I think that’s what we wanted to do to prepare ourselves for the Big Ten. So we definitely have tested ourselves these first two days, and I know Washington is going to bring that test too.”