Notebook: Defense a lingering problem for Wolverines

James Coller/Daily
Buy this photo

By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 4, 2014

One theme makes up the similarities in the Michigan women’s basketball team’s two-game losing streak — defense. Or, a lack thereof.

The struggles began against Nebraska on Jan. 29, when the Wolverines put their undefeated road record on the line and came up well short. Michigan (5-4 Big Ten, 14-8 overall) allowed the Cornhuskers to score 44 first-half points on 56.7-percent shooting.

Not much improved after halftime, as Nebraska ended the game with 84 points and shot 53.3 percent from the field. It was just the second time the Wolverines had allowed their opponents to score more than 80 points, and was just the third time Michigan was outrebounded this season.

“Nebraska was unbelievable, and they had a special day there,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on Tuesday. “They were coming off of two really tough losses, they were ready to go, and we really couldn’t stop them from scoring.

“Despite everything we tried, Nebraska kept scoring, and they have a young lady in Jordan Hooper. … who was on fire for them. Everything seemed to be going right for them.”

In just 27 minutes, Hooper exploded for 25 points and 10 rebounds, missing just four shots. No amount of varied defensive looks slowed her down, leaving Michigan without a realistic solution to its most pressing problem.

But what could’ve been written off as an isolated incident against Nebraska continued at home against a struggling Minnesota team. Going into halftime with a 38-34 lead, the Wolverines allowed the Golden Gophers to hit 11 of their first 13 shots in the second half, eventually leading to a whopping 77.3-percent clip after the break.

“It was our fourth game in 10 days, and we weren’t sure how our kids would respond to the travel schedule,” Barnes Arico said. “(Minnesota) was unbelievable in the second half. … We really did play well, but we can’t have lapses against good teams (because) good teams will make you pay for those defensive lapses.”

The Golden Gophers’ productive second half saw two of their players score 24 points each in addition to guard Mikayla Bailey’s 17, well above her average of three points per game.

And despite grabbing a season-best 21 offensive rebounds and committing a season-low seven turnovers against Minnesota, Michigan’s defense inhibited its production and led the team to drop back-to-back losses for the first time all season.

22 FOR THE FROSH: For most of the year, freshman point guard Siera Thompson has been on fire from beyond the 3-point arc.

And nothing changed against Nebraska, where Thompson hit two 3-pointers to move her season total to 50, setting a new Michigan freshman record. Amy Johnson held the previous mark of 49 in 1993-1994.

Thompson is just the eighth Wolverine to hit at least 50 in a season.

“She’s been incredible,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s been steady night in and night out. She handles the ball for us and she usually guards the other team’s best guard. We are asking so much of her. … One thing our team needs to do a better job of is finding her and being able to get her some easier shots.”

Thompson also hit three triples against Minnesota, extending her streak of make 3-pointers to 22-consecutive games. But despite scoring 16 points in the first half against the Golden Gophers, Thompson was held to just three in the second half.

TRAVELING IN STYLE: Following Michigan’s win over Wisconsin on Jan. 26, the Wolverines traveled in style, flying on a Miami Air charter — a plane the defending-NBA champion Miami Heat sometimes use. The plane was en route to Detroit to pick up the NHL’s Florida Panthers after their game against the Detroit Red Wings.