The Michigan women’s basketball team is exhausted.
After playing three games in seven days, the Wolverines have finally completed the toughest stretch of their schedule. The first game was against No. 8 Penn State, which edged out Michigan (5-2 Big Ten, 16-4 overall), 59-49. Four days later, the Wolverines went on the road to Indiana where they trounced the Hoosiers, 61-43. With three days to rest, Michigan returned home to face Iowa in a disappointing 63-57 loss on Sunday.
“This was the first stretch for me where we had to play three games in a week and it was incredibly tough,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Starting with Penn State then having to travel to Indiana and then returning (home) and having to play Iowa for a second time, having us coming off beating them. I don’t think that’s an easy week for anybody.”
The Wolverines looked fatigued in their most recent loss to Iowa. Having outplayed the Hawkeyes for most of the game, Michigan couldn’t keep up in the last few minutes when fatigue started to kick in. That was especially true for senior guard Jenny Ryan, who played just shy of all 120 minutes of the tough three-game stretch.
“I think I took (Ryan) out for six seconds,” Barnes Arico said after the loss to Iowa. “That’s probably all she’s going to get. I think obviously she’s worn out.”
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they only had a four-day break before hitting the road to face Minnesota (2-5, 13-8) on Thursday.
“Our schedule is incredibly tough, but we have had the ability to bounce back this season,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s going to be tough on Thursday. Anytime you go on the road in the Big Ten, it’s really hard, and I think we have to get our toughness back and the chip on our shoulder back and be ready to go at Minnesota because everybody is gunning for us now.”
Michigan will need an improved offensive showing from its leading scorers, senior forward Kate Thompson and senior center Rachel Sheffer. After a hot start, teams have made stopping Thompson a point of emphasis.
“I think teams are really keying on (Thompson), and they’re really setting their defense to take her out of what she’s capable of doing,” Barnes Arico said. “She needs to make some adjustments (and) be able to curl off screens.
“We need Kate, and we need Rachel to make some shots for us.”
Sheffer, who scored her 1000th career point against Penn State, was held scoreless in the loss to Iowa.
The Golden Gophers boast their own 1000-point scorer in guard Rachel Banham, who scored 37 points in Minnesota’s loss to Illinois on Monday. Banham leads the team with 21 points per game, which is good for second in the Big Ten. Junior forward Micaella Riche is another offensive threat, averaging 12.6 points per game and 7.2 rebounds.
Overall, Minnesota is a high-powered offensive team. The Golden Gophers are second in the Big Ten in points per game, averaging 71.5, so the Wolverines will have to rely on their defense to slow them down.
Meanwhile, Minnesota is in the middle of a four-game losing streak and will do everything it can to end it against Michigan.
“We have to get prepared for a very good Michigan team and leave this (streak) behind us so we can get better for Thursday,” said Minnesota coach Pam Borton.
The Wolverines are tired, but their extra day of preparation will prove to be critical come game time.
“We have to rest up and get a couple of days of practice in,” Barnes Arico said. “We haven’t been able to do that with the three games in a week so hopefully (we’ll) be more energized and ready to go by Thursday.”