Notre Dame outlasts Michigan, 76-72
Down three with 30 seconds remaining on Saturday, the Michigan women’s basketball team had an opportunity to force overtime against Notre Dame. Freshman guard Michelle Sidor found herself open from three, with a chance to keep the Wolverines’ perfect season intact.
The shot clunked off the right side of the rim, sealing a 76-72 victory for the Fighting Irish (4-2).
The Wolverines (4-1) started off strong offensively, largely thanks to tough play down low from their bigs. In the first quarter alone, they picked up six offensive rebounds that led to nine second-chance points. Senior forward Kayla Robbins led this effort, picking up three first-quarter offensive boards.
“Kayla was outstanding,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We really challenged her this week to get a double-double and try to be a great rebounder, and I thought she was really a great rebounder for us tonight.”
The Wolverines’ dominance in the paint continued through the second quarter. They added six more offensive rebounds, two of which came from sophomore forward Naz Hillmon. At the end of the first half, Michigan had 22 total rebounds to Notre Dame’s 10.
Late in the first half, the Wolverines struggled to pull away, largely because they had several players in foul trouble. Robbins, senior guard Akienreh Johnson, and freshman center Isabel Varejão each picked up two fouls in the first quarter, which limited their minutes for the rest of the half.
“(Losing players to foul trouble) doesn’t give subs to everybody else and it forces people to play a lot of minutes,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought that also when we tried to put them back in in the first half, they were very tentative, and not playing aggressively because they were afraid to foul.”
Errant passes and miscommunications also hampered Michigan offensively. They gave up 11 turnovers in the first half, and Notre Dame tallied 13 points off of those turnovers.
A flat offensive start in the second half allowed the Irish to jump to a three-point lead. After three minutes without a bucket, Michigan turned to its upperclassmen for offense.
They responded in a big way. Junior forward Hailey Brown nailed two straight 3-pointers, and Robbins converted a three point play in what felt like a turning point.
But Notre Dame kept up the pressure. Led by guard Destinee Walker’s nine third-quarter points, including two 3-pointers, the Irish cut the Wolverines’ lead to four entering the game’s final period.
The fourth quarter was all Notre Dame. Defensive adjustments allowed the Irish to shut Michigan down in the paint, and the Wolverines only managed two field goals in the entire quarter. They didn’t help themselves on free throws, either — they were a poor 7-of-12 from the line in the fourth.
As the buzzer sounded, Michigan knew it had let this one get away. It had led for almost the entire game and used its superior height to dominate off the glass. But their careless mistakes and 24 turnovers ultimately led to their defeat.
“I would definitely say that they were more so our turnovers (and not forced by Notre Dame),” Brown said. “Whether that be a travel, or even we’re catching it, reversing it and throwing it right to the team’s hands.”
Added Barnes Arico: “I think we just need to be able to make our free throws and finish games out.”