It would be an understatement to say that the Michigan women’s basketball team is reeling.
After losing at Ohio State in a game in which the Wolverines led by as many as 12 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, they traveled home to Ann Arbor to take on Northwestern on Saturday.
But Michigan (6-8 Big Ten, 14-11 overall) didn’t fare much better.
After leading all game, the Wolverines faltered down the stretch before Wildcat forward Nia Coffey took the ball cross-court for a game-winning layup to stun Michigan, 63-62.
“It was a tough game for us,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on WTKA Radio. “But sometimes you need those kinds of games to learn and to grow and to get better. It’s kind of been a tough stretch for our kids because we’ve been so close, but I think it’ll pay off.”
Wednesday, the Wolverines will get a chance to get past the two heartbreaking losses when Indiana comes to town.
The Hoosiers (4-10, 14-11) travel to Ann Arbor following a loss to Iowa in which the Hawkeyes shot 61.3 percent in the second half to run away with an 81-64 victory.
Indiana coach Teri Moren’s team is led in scoring by guard Larryn Brooks, who averages 13.8 points, while forward Amanda Cahill leads the team in rebounding with 8.1 boards per game.
With just four upperclassmen on the roster, the underclassmen carry most of the playing time, and Moren starts five of them — three sophomores and two freshmen. Freshman guard Jess Walter is usually the first off the bench for the Hoosiers.
“Indiana’s a young team with a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so they’re kind of fearless,” Barnes Arico said. “They shoot about 20 (3-pointers) a half, not even in a game, so they will come out firing.”
While the Hoosiers sit in ninth place in the Big Ten, they started off the season strong, going 10-1 in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
But Indiana, like the Wolverines, has learned just how good the Big Ten is and has struggled against the competition.
The Daily sat down with Moren — currently in her first season with Indiana after four years at Indiana State — at Big Ten Media Day in October to discuss the Hoosiers’ upcoming season.
The Michigan Daily: It’s your first year with Indiana. What are your expectations for the team this year?
Teri Moren: Our expectations are really simple. It’s going to sound pretty cliché, but we’re just going to try to get better every day. This is a new staff, and we’re trying to implement some different things. Our emphasis has been on the defensive end. The only thing we can ask from our players is that they come with energy and great effort, and if they do those two things and they’re coachable, we know we’re going to make progress. We want to feel really good about each practice and know that we got better at the end of the day.
TMD: You come from Indiana State, a little bit of a smaller school. What’s the biggest challenge for you in the transition?
TM: I’ve been at Division II schools, I’ve been in the (Atlantic Coast Conference), and as you mentioned, the (Missouri) Valley, all really good stops. The game’s not taught any different, it’s just the magnitude of the Big Ten and being at a school like Indiana and wanting to build a tradition. Nobody’s going to put more pressure on themselves than I will, but I’ve always been like that at any of my stops. Indiana’s a special place for a lot of reasons, but there’s no reason why Indiana women’s basketball can’t have the tradition that our men’s team has.
TMD: You come in after the sudden resignation of Curt Miller. How do you win over the team right away?
TM: The relationship part of it is so important. I’m a relationship coach. I think John Wooden always said, “Your players don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” and I’ve used that forever, and I think it’s important in this day and age that our players understand how much I care about them, and that I care about every aspect of their lives.
I want to help them succeed in the classroom, succeed as people, succeed as basketball players, and be successful later in life. I’ve asked the players to come into the office. I’ve had to play catch-up with them, so it was really important that I get a lot of face time with them. But I’ll tell you this: I think the players wanted to build that relationship, as much as I wanted to build the relationship with them, so it was really a two-way street. We both had to make the effort, for the players to come in the office and be around us, go to football games, sit with us, have dinners. All of it has been instrumental in playing catch-up with this group and building that trust, and this group has been really open to that.
TMD: With Rutgers and Maryland coming into the Big Ten, it’s going to be a strong conference, and you’re a new coach to the conference. What’s your outlook on the Big Ten this season?
TM: I think the Big Ten is different. Again, I got to spend about three years in the ACC, so I know a little bit about Maryland, and one of the things about the ACC is the pace is faster because of the athleticism. To me, the Big Ten has always been a low-post, grind-it-out, very physical conference. Maybe not as athletic, although I think there are more teams that have more athletes than they’ve ever had. Maryland and Rutgers have just made it more difficult, and that’s a good thing. We’re all competitors at the end of the day, and I’m just trying to get our group to be productive and buy into what I’m trying to do to be competitive and give us a chance to win every night. But I don’t think there’s anybody in this room that isn’t competitive and doesn’t want to win a Big Ten championship and get to the NCAA Tournament. We’re not any different than that.