Rohan Kumar: Wolverines need to find their flow
On Jan. 23, the Michigan women’s basketball team put Michigan State to shame with a 26-point victory. When the two sides met again last Sunday, the Wolverines started the game with a 7-0 run and looked like they might cause further humiliation to their rivals.
That didn’t happen. Michigan quickly lost its touch and fell to the Spartans, 66-61.
After the game, Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant best described the Wolverines’ fallout:
“They couldn’t get into a flow,” Merchant said.
Come to think of it, when was the last time No. 23 Michigan (9-5 Big Ten, 20-7 overall) was in its flow?
Yes, the Wolverines won their prior contest against Northwestern in dominant fashion, by 21 points. Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty and junior center Hallie Thome had silenced the offensive critics, tallying 36 and 25 points, respectively. But at 12th in the conference and 184th in the RPI rankings, the Wildcats aren’t exactly the most skilled team.
A team like Michigan is expected to dismantle opponents of Northwestern’s caliber. While the lopsided victory may have boosted the Wolverines’ morale, they hardly reached their flow.
Michigan surely wasn’t in its flow the week before that, either. The Wolverines were upset, 63-56, by Rutgers on the road, and also blew a 16-point fourth quarter lead in an overtime loss to Purdue.
While these two teams are a step up from Northwestern, they still aren’t anywhere close to the top of the pack in the conference. The Scarlet Knights are ninth in the Big Ten and were on a four-game losing streak at the time. And against the Boilermakers, Michigan was cruising — as expected — but completely fell apart. Both were contests the Wolverines — who have been nationally ranked all season — should have easily won.
The three matchups prior were all blowout victories. One was against Illinois — who is last in the Big Ten standings — and the others were against the Spartans and the Wildcats.
Though Michigan outscored its opponents by an impressive 91 points through these three games, nothing less was expected. For instance, the main reason the Wolverines dominated Michigan State in the first meeting was because the Spartans were burdened by injuries. The second matchup perhaps seemed more indicative of the true result.
Through this lens, the last time Kim Barnes Arico’s team won a meaningful game was almost a month ago in Columbus. On Jan. 16, the Wolverines topped then-No. 8 Ohio State, 84-75. They shot over 53 percent from the floor in that game and attacked the basket well. It was a signature win. Michigan was in its flow.
The recent loss against Michigan State marked the Wolverines’ third defeat in their last four games.
“We battled till the end,” Barnes Arico said after the game, “but were never really able to recover.”
The season is spiraling out of control. Michigan is still hanging on to its NCAA Tournament aspirations, but just barely.
With two games left in the regular season, the team still has a chance to get redemption. Recovery will be tough, though, as it will face Minnesota on the road and No. 10 Maryland at home.
To make the most out of what’s left, the Wolverines must keep battling and find their flow.
Kumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rohantoocold.