Second-half struggles plague Wolverines in loss to Nebraska

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By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published February 13, 2014

The first time the Michigan women’s basketball team faced Nebraska this season, the Wolverines suffered their second-worst loss under Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. This time, Barnes Arico wasn’t going to let that happen.

And she didn’t — in the first half, at least.

Michigan’s porous defense, combined with a disappointing start to the second half, led to a 76-68 Wolverines loss to the 21st-ranked Cornhuskers — their fifth loss in seven games.

Like in its last several games, Michigan (6-6 Big Ten, 15-10 overall) was able to run with its opponent during the first 20 minutes of play, but it was the second half that caused the problems.

“I think the first five or six minutes (of the second half) were a struggle, but I think we adjusted,” Barnes Arico said. “They were able to get out in transition, which is what they did against us the first time at their place, and they scored some easy baskets so we got ourselves in a bit of a hole.”

Following the ugly start to the half, the Wolverines were able to make a run to close the gap to as little as six with free throws from freshman point guard Siera Thompson, but it was too little, too late for Michigan.

After allowing the Cornhuskers (8-3, 18-5) to shoot 67 percent in the first half, Michigan came out in the second aiming to improve its defense, but the attempts never truly came to fruition.

The Wolverines turned to a man defense to try and slow down Nebraska’s offense, but it didn’t work, as it finished the game shooting 59 percent from the floor, including 18-for-21 from the charity stripe. And, like last time, two-time first-team All Big Ten forward Jordan Hooper dismantled the Wolverines with 23 points and nine rebounds. Hooper was 8-for-10 from the floor.

“She’s a great player,” said junior forward Cyesha Goree. “She can shoot the three even when you contest it. … She’s an all-around great player. It was pretty tough guarding her, but we did what we could.”

Coming out of halftime Michigan turned the ball over during its first possession, foreshadowing the rest of the game. Two possessions later, a backcourt violation on junior guard Shannon Smith turned the ball back to the Cornhuskers again.

A three-point play from Emily Cady on the subsequent possession gave Nebraska a nine-point lead — its biggest lead of the game at that point. Though Michigan cut it to six with under a minute remaining, the Wolverines didn’t score a field goal in the last 4:52 of the game, relying on free throws to close the deficit.

At the heart of Michigan’s struggles was, once again, its defense. After spending the first half of the season out-hustling and outrebounding their opponents, the Wolverines are starting to look like a young, inexperienced team.

In the first half, Michigan’s five offensive rebounds — four from Goree — kept the team in the game despite Nebraska’s hot shooting. But in the second half, the Wolverines’ contested baskets were no longer falling, and even though they were able to grab three more offensive rebounds, they were unable to convert the second-chance opportunities.

“We hit some shots, but there were so many shots we didn’t hit, and they’d hit those shots and score,” Goree said. “We couldn’t get stops, and at the end of the day, it’s all about getting stops on the defensive end. If we had gotten more stops, it would’ve been a totally different ball game.”

Like the rest of the team, Goree shined in the first half but went quiet in the second. The junior forward went into halftime with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists. And while her hustle remained present in the second frame, her offense went cold.

Goree didn’t hit a field goal in the second half until 6:52 remained in the game, and by then, the Wolverines were down by 13. She ended the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Smith added 12 points and six rebounds.

“Cyesha has really grown leaps and bounds, and you saw that tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “She was just sensational. I think our biggest challenge now with a young lady like Cyesha is, ‘Hey you’re doing a fabulous job on the offensive end. You’re rebounding, you’re scoring, but now you have to contribute on the defensive end.’

“That’s really our challenge for our team right now.”