In a clash of the Big Ten’s hottest teams, the Michigan women’s basketball team came out fast against No. 24 Nebraska. In the first half, at least.
The Wolverines — riding a three-game win streak, including a huge win against Michigan State on Saturday — forced three Cornhusker turnovers in the opening two minutes and relied on the strong play of senior forward Nya Jordan, who had six of the team’s first 10 points. But two extensive stretches without a basket — Nebraska had runs of 15 and 21 unanswered points — were too much for Michigan to overcome in a 57-39 loss to Nebraska on Thursday night. Michigan scored its lowest point total of the season in its second-to-last home game.
“It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t get out of it,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “In the first half we really struggled offensively, but they struggled as well, so we kind of went back and forth through the struggles.
“Then in the second half we continued with the struggle, so hopefully it was a fluke and we can move on.”
The Wolverines (8-5 Big Ten, 19-7 overall) kept the Cornhuskers’ offense cold for the first eight minutes, but Nebraska’s leading scorers — senior guard Lindsey Moore and junior forward Jordan Hooper — helped build a five-point lead after sparking a 15-0 run halfway through the first.
Michigan’s offense, which started out 5-for-9 from the field, missed its next 11 shots and went more than six minutes without a point, allowing the Cornhuskers to gain the momentum. After a Michigan timeout, senior center Rachel Sheffer hit a layup to end the Wolverines’ scoring drought. The rest of the half proved to be a back-and-forth struggle with Jordan’s 10 points and eight rebounds helping the Wolverines take a 22-18 lead at halftime.
“We ran a lot of stuff early in the game to (Jordan),” Barnes Arico said. “Early on we ran three straight plays for her and she did a tremendous job, (but) she got a little bit tired in the second half.
“Overall, though, Nya is doing everything for us, I’m really grateful that she turned it on.”
Nebraska (10-3, 20-6) opened the second half scoring 21 straight points to gain a commanding 17-point lead. Michigan’s first points of the second half didn’t come until Sheffer hit a 3-pointer with 11:26 remaining in the game. A quick jumper by sophomore guard Brenae Harris cut the deficit to 12, forcing the Cornhuskers to take a timeout.
“They came out way more aggressive than we did, and we kind of got a little bit rattled because they scored,” Jordan said. “They went on a run, and we weren’t able to answer.”
After both teams traded baskets, senior guard Kate Thompson hit her first 3-pointer of the game with 6:54 remaining, chipping Nebraska’s lead to 10 — the closest Michigan got to the Cornhuskers before eventually falling by 18 points.
After having back-to-back strong offensive games, Thompson couldn’t find her shot, going 2-for-17 with five points, but she still added eight rebounds. Ryan, who won Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday, was also quiet compared to her 24-point effort against Michigan State but contributed just six points and only one assist.
Jordan ended the game with 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds. It was her fifth straight game scoring in double figures, a career best. Sheffer added nine points and seven rebounds.
The downfall for the Wolverines was their second-half performance — they were outscored 39-17 in the period. Michigan shot 27.7 percent on the game, including 13 percent from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Nebraska shot 39.6 percent on the game including 53.8 percent in the second half. In addition, the Cornhuskers went 7-for-12 from downtown in the second half.
“The second half we came out dead,” Sheffer said. “We didn’t have any energy. The biggest thing was that we weren’t hitting shots, but we were going on the defensive shots and letting them hit shots. When we’re not hitting shots we have to step up our defensive game especially.”
Added Barnes Arico: “In the second half I really thought that we looked fatigued, (and) they really beat us in transition. We lost our fire a little bit, and I think sometimes not being able to score takes the wind out of your sails, and (that’s) what happened to us.”