The Michigan women’s basketball team has fallen back to reality.
After winning a program-best 10-straight games — including three in conference play — the 23rd-ranked Wolverines were handed their first loss in conference play last night in a 59-49 defeat to No. 8 Penn State (5-0 Big Ten, 15-3 overall).
Despite being down by eight at halftime, Michigan (4-1, 15-3) fought back and grabbed the lead with 14:10 remaining in the game. But after a timeout, the Nittany Lions went on an 11-4 run that put them up for good.
“I thought we kind of ran out of gas a little bit and got careless with the ball,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(Overall) though, it was an off shooting night.”
Calling it “an off shooting night” is an understatement. The Wolverines hit a season-low 27 percent of their shots, including just 24 percent in the second half.
“We haven’t shot it like that all year,” Barnes Arico said. “Those shots we missed are shots we normally knock down.”
Added senior guard Jenny Ryan: “From my point of view, I thought every shot was going in. I can think of three to four that were halfway down.”
With baskets not falling, Michigan had to try and make stops on defense, which it did until the last few minutes of the first and second halves.
“(They are) a quality team and it just works out,” Barnes Arico said. “That’s probably why they are No. 8 and we are No. 23 at this point, because they had four more minutes than we did.”
Michigan joined Connecticut as the only teams to hold Penn State to fewer than 60 points this season.
THOMPSON STRUGGLES: Coming off a strong performance against Northwestern where she hit a program-best seven 3-pointers, senior guard Kate Thompson hopped on the struggle bus against Penn State.
Thompson hit her first two 3-pointers, but ended the night 3-for-14 from beyond the arc with just nine points.
“If Kate’s open, she has the green light to score,” Barnes Arico said. “She’s one of the best shooters in the country, (but) I think she got a little frazzled by them and a little fatigued.
“But if she’s not shooting, then who’s making it? They need to have the confidence and they need to know that we believe in them and some nights are going to be that way.”
Thompson has had a season to remember, averaging 15.4 points per game in her first year as a starter. But she has issues eluding double coverage, and against Wisconsin last Sunday, Thompson was held without a 3-pointer for the first time this season.
Her bounce-back game against Northwestern was her strongest showing of the season. It gives the Wolverines hope that Thompson will find her shot when they hit the road to face Indiana on Thursday.
A GRAND ACHIEVEMENT: Amidst the disappointing loss to the Nittany Lions on Monday was a bright star: senior center Rachel Sheffer.
“I thought Rachel did a tremendous job inside and showed a great toughness about her tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “She wasn’t getting her shots to fall, but she really did a great job.”
Sheffer ended the game with 20 points and 10 rebounds, her fourth career double-double. Her big accomplishment of the night, however, came eight minutes into the second half, when she went to the line and hit two free throws for her 999th and 1000th career points.
“It’s a great honor, but it’s just one statistic,” Sheffer said. “You look at (it) maybe 10 years from now and say, ‘Hey, I scored my 1,000th point.’ ”
Sheffer’s accomplishment is even more impressive considering the size mismatch she found under the basket. At 6-foot-1, Sheffer usually finds herself guarding bigger players. Penn State’s Nikki Greene — at 6-foot-4 — proved to be no different.
“Greene has weight, height, everything on her and Rachel really held her own and got her into foul trouble,” Barnes Arico said.