Wolverines look for answers to opponents’ 3-point success

Thursday, January 23, 2020 - 8:26pm

Senior guard Akienreh Johnson said Michigan needs to tweak its defensive gameplan.

Senior guard Akienreh Johnson said Michigan needs to tweak its defensive gameplan. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

Ohio State is not a very good 3-point shooting team. 

It’s made just 31.6 percent of its 3-pointers this season, the fourth-worst mark in the Big Ten. Most coaches wouldn’t have to worry about getting beat from beyond the arc against the Buckeyes. 

But against the Michigan women’s basketball team on Jan. 9, they shot 11-for-22 from three en route to a 78-69 win.

Maryland’s a little better. It’s shot a respectable 36.8 percent on 3-pointers, good for third in the Big Ten. 

Just like Ohio State, the Terrapins exceeded their season average against the Wolverines, shooting 10-of-21 from three — and 6-for-8 in the second half —  in their blowout win on Jan. 12. 

A week later, the same thing happened again, when Nebraska shattered its 33.8 percent average and went 12-of-24 from beyond the arc in their win over Michigan. 

The Wolverines’ inability to defend the three has been central to their struggles recently. They’ve lost three of their last four games, and with three of the Big Ten’s top teams — Rutgers, Northwestern and Iowa — up next on the schedule, they desperately need to resolve this problem to bounce back. 

“I think we have to just change our gameplan,” senior guard Akienreh Johnson said. “Most of the time going into the game (our opponent) had had a poor shooting night before, or multiple poor shooting nights. I’m not saying we don’t defend the three, but we don’t (emphasize) it as much as we should, and in the game when they start hitting them, we don’t adjust, so we’re not able to … take away the shot.”

Except for the Maryland game, Michigan has held its own well into the second half of all its recent contests. The Wolverines were tied with Ohio State entering the fourth quarter and led by one at the same point against Nebraska. 

But the Buckeyes hit both of their fourth-quarter 3-point attempts, and the Huskers hit 4-of-5 — winning by just three points. Michigan is putting itself in positions to win games, but its defense keeps faltering in big moments. 

Part of this stems from the Wolverines’ commitment to shutting down teams down low. They use their length to clog the paint and prevent opponents from getting easy buckets or offensive rebounds, and they’ve been successful in that regard. They reel in 72.2 percent of their defensive rebound opportunities, the best in the Big Ten. 

But against modern five-out schemes — where the offense starts with five players on the perimeter — clogging the inside leaves Michigan vulnerable to open threes on the drive-and-kick. Essentially, the Wolverines gamble that their opponents won’t make their 3-pointers in favor of stopping the layup. 

They’ve been losing that bet. 

“I feel like a lot of teams in the Big Ten have balanced teams,” junior forward Hailey Brown said. “Everyone can kind of shoot the three, everyone can play inside, so when it comes to that it is harder to defend. Just because if everyone’s a 3-point threat then you gotta take away something, so do you want to give up threes or twos?”

If it was only one game, you could say that Michigan was just unlucky, but poor 3-point defense has become a theme over its last several losses. And with senior forward Kayla Robbins — one of the Wolverines’ best defenders — out for the season with a torn ACL, life will only get harder if Michigan cant adjust.