INDIANAPOLIS – One team entered with NCAA Tournament aspirations.

The other had nothing to lose.

One team made sure it would live to fight another day.

The other played without the passion to do so.

As the opening game of the women’s Big Ten Tournament wound down, it was evident that Michigan was the latter team. Wisconsin cruised past the Wolverines, 81-59, and into the second round last Thursday night in Conseco Fieldhouse.

Anyone who found a seat for the tournament expecting to see some good, fundamentally sound basketball would have been severely disappointed. The opening round game featured two sluggish and sloppy teams who combined for 25 first-half turnovers.

Michigan’s problems started when Wisconsin settled down and ran a more solid offensive scheme. Midway through the first frame, Wisconsin junior Jolene Anderson looked like an unsupervised kid in a candy store, sampling everything. After hitting a few open outside shots, Anderson found lanes to the basket as Wolverine defenders started keying on the perimeter. Anderson’s unpredictable shots helped her score 11 of the team’s first 17 points.

The first-team All-Big Ten guard provided the versatility needed to open up a 19-4 Badger run on her way to scoring 22 points on the evening.

“They were getting some big shots, and we were missing some big shots,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “And then you’re trying to play from behind against a team that gains great confidence from Jolene Anderson and the things that she can do.”

With Anderson carrying Wisconsin through its lackluster first half, the Wolverines (3-13 Big Ten, 10-20 overall) needed a similar effort from one of its players.

But when freshman LeQuisha Whitfield decided she should be the one to step up, the Wolverines didn’t reap the desired benefits.

In just seven minutes on the floor in the opening half, Whitfield turned the ball over six times and missed all of her free throw attempts. Whitfield’s six missed shots were a major contributor to Michigan’s miserable 25-percent shooting.

By game’s end, Whitfield’s stat line was a train wreck: 1-for-11 shooting, just two rebounds and seven turnovers in 13 minutes.

Although it seemed that Whitfield tried to take over the game, all she managed to do was lose control. The more negative plays she made, the more Whitfield pushed the ball, resulting in more turnovers and poor shots.

Despite the less-than-spectacular first half – even by the Wolverines’ standards – they came out of the tunnel ready to play in the second stanza. Looking like a whole new team, Michigan stormed back with the help of sophomores Carly Benson and Stephany Skrba. Each poured in four points, cutting the deficit to just five. Benson and Skrba finished with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

“I think the second half is where we started to come together and be more aggressive offensively,” Benson said. “We regrouped (in the second half), but I think somewhere we just left it go.”

But like in so many other games this year, Michigan comeback efforts fell short. The Wolverines expended so much energy pulling the game within five that they had nothing left down the stretch.

The Badgers (7-9, 19-12) took advantage of their tired opponents, scorching Michigan for 53 points after halftime. Wisconsin eventually pulled ahead 30 before resting players for their second round game.

Burnett is now 1-4 in Big Ten Tournament games.

“It’s been a challenging year,” Burnett said. “We’ve come close so many times. .You want your kids to have a payoff for their effort on the court. We all know that winning makes life easier. I continue to give this team credit because they’ve continued to come out and fight.”

But, following a year without a single Big Ten win with three this season, is the season a success?

“Any coach that doesn’t win the national championship is going to say, ‘I wish we would’ve come out and done better,’ ” Burnett said. “Certainly you want to come out and win the games.”

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