Wolverines can’t complete comeback at No. 24 Rutgers

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By Minh Doan, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 7, 2015

With 10:45 left in the game, sophomore guard Siera Thompson made a 3-pointer to tie the score for the Michigan women’s basketball team, which had trailed by as much as 19 in the first half.

But that was as close as the Wolverines (2-2 Big Ten, 10-5 overall) would get. No. 24 Rutgers (2-2, 11-4) scored the next seven points and never looked back en route to an 81-68 victory Wednesday night at the Rutgers Athletic Center.

While the result remains a loss, the Wolverines played some of their best basketball against the reigning WNIT champion for 10 minutes in the second half.

Ending the first half down by 17 points, the Wolverines needed to change up their tactics, specifically on defense.

“(In the) second half, we went exclusively zone,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We just tried to put a couple people inside the paint around their bigs and make them really have to score from the outside.”

And it worked, for a little while anyway.

The Wolverines came out of the halftime break with a 17-2 run to cut the deficit to three points before trading baskets leading up to Thompson’s emphatic 3-pointer to tie the game.

But Michigan couldn’t come any closer to victory, and Rutgers closed out the game with a 12-2 run of its own to shut the door on the Wolverines’ upset hopes.

While the second half showed promise for Michigan, the first half showed the exact opposite.

With 15 turnovers in the first half, the Wolverines were unable to find rhythm with their offense, scoring just 25 points on 42-percent shooting.

Coming off a win over Michigan State just three days before in which Michigan forced 24 turnovers, the Wolverines couldn’t stop the Scarlet Knights’ offense, especially in the first half.

“They scored pretty much all of their points in the paint, a lot of them off of our turnovers, in transition or their post players,” Barnes Arico said. “Their post players killed us in the first half.”

Freshman guard Katelynn Flaherty — the Wolverines’ leading scorer — returned to her home state of New Jersey, but it was anything but a warm homecoming.

Flaherty was held to just four points as the Scarlet Knights keyed in on her 3-point shooting.

“They were face guarding her in the first half,” Barnes Arico said. “She made her first three, and then it was kind of hard for her to get touches.

“She’s got to get better. She’s got to learn how to use screens, how to get open, how to take advantage when people are overplaying and how to back cut.”

And Flaherty, along with the rest of the Wolverines, will have just four days to bounce back before they take on Ohio State at home in a big rivalry matchup.

But if there’s one thing Barnes Arico wants improved by then, it’s the defense.

“Rutgers, who doesn’t score a ton of points, scored 81 points,” Barnes Arico said. “So we have to figure out how to slow people down a little bit.”