As season winds down, Wolverines struggle with inconsistency, inexperience

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By Lev Facher, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 9, 2014

Never one to lose perspective, Kim Barnes Arico lightheartedly blamed her team’s fourth defeat in its last six games on its pink sleeves. Then she paused and took a serious stab at analyzing the Michigan women’s basketball’s 65-56 loss to Purdue, offering up the only rational explanation for the Wolverines’ third consecutive home loss.

“(Purdue) played like a more experienced team down the stretch,” Barnes Arico said. “Being a coach with a lot of years of experience, when you lose tough games like that, you’re a year or two away.”

“I actually thought we did a great job of taking them out of what they wanted to do,” Barnes Arico said, praising her team’s ability to limit the Boilermakers’ ability to execute their half-court offense.

The Wolverine defense showed encouraging signs of life early in the second half, holding the Boilermakers without a field goal through the game’s first eight minutes. But Barnes Arico also cited Michigan’s inability to stop Purdue’s transition game as one of the game’s deciding factors.

Barnes Arico has been frank in her prognoses for her team all season long, and Sunday’s postgame musings were no different. Playing with a rotation that’s seven deep at best, contending with the best teams the Big Ten has to offer and coping with one of the league’s toughest travel schedules seem to have finally taken their toll on the inexperienced Wolverines.

For the second time in three tries, Michigan failed to take care of business at home against a conference opponent it had previously beaten on the road. The lone pair of wins came against Wisconsin, the current owner of a 3-8 Big Ten record.

“Nobody likes getting swept,” said junior forward Cyesha Goree. “That makes them want to come out and play harder … at the same time, we have to take care of business at home.”

Goree did her best to make sure business was taken care of, pulling down seven offensive rebounds and scoring 12 points in the losing effort. Senior forward Val Driscoll and freshman guard Siera Thompson contributed 10 points each, giving the Wolverines the scoring balance they’re used to.

But in the end, as has been the case in the last month, the various pieces didn’t come together for the Wolverines. And as has been the case in the majority of Michigan’s losses, an extended run by the opposition, this time late in the first half, cost the Wolverines both their lead and the game.

The ability to stop those extended stretches of helplessness might be something that comes about with age, seasoning and experience, Barnes Arico said. With the prospect of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid gone, Barnes Arico seems content to play the waiting game. She knows the odd careless turnover from sophomore guard Madison Ristovski and the rare shot clock violation when Thompson doesn’t realize she only has two seconds left to shoot will be largely a thing of the past when she and the Wolverines give the Big Ten a third go-round.

Even Driscoll and Goree — veterans by class but still relative newcomers in terms of in-game experience — made the relatively non-veteran mistake of getting into major foul trouble early in the second half. With both forwards burdened with three personal fouls and no size on the bench to give them a break, Michigan’s ability to play aggressive defense in the low post was gone, and the Wolverines’ prospects of a comeback vanished with it.