When Michigan coach Kevin Borseth pictures the women’s basketball team’s defense, he wants to imagine a solid block. Borseth said his team’s defense has, at times, reminded him of swiss cheese. And its holes represent a lot of gaping problems.
Michigan is 2-5 in the Big Ten (10-7 overall) and 1-1 at home. And to improve that record, the defense will need to be uncharacteristically tight in defending its home court against No. 5 Ohio State tonight.
Borseth knows the team needs to learn how to respond when opponents make mid-game adjustments. It’s something they couldn’t do against Wisconsin in an ugly 20 point road loss on Jan. 10.
“In the second half, they just diced us up (defensively),” Borseth said after the loss in Madison. “They changed their configuration in the second half. We didn’t adjust to it, and that hurt us.”
And against a team as strong as Ohio State, the Wolverines will need an extra effort to put together a full 40 minutes of defense.
Good teams will take advantage of the holes in the Michigan defense until it turns into that “solid block of cheese”, and the Wolverines haven’t played an entire Big Ten game of great defense yet.
Any hopes of a mid-conference winning streak were put on hold after a loss to Indiana in their last game on Jan. 14. That doesn’t bode well for a young team desperate for a momentum swing.
Against the Hoosiers, the Wolverines trailed in the first half, allowing 40 points before the break, after which they buckled down and came out strong defensively in the second half. They held Indiana to just 23 points in the final 20 minutes. And if they had made a last-second layup that rolled out of the rim, they would have tied the game and forced overtime. It was their unusually strong and inspired defense that gave them a chance to win.
And if Michigan is going to beat the Buckeyes (7-0 Big Ten, 10-1 overall) tonight, the Wolverines absolutely must lock down one end of the court.
But that’s easier said than done.
The Wolverines’ holey defense is prohibiting them from beating mediocre teams – and for a team historically strong on the defensive end like Ohio State, that is worrisome.
“If we get stops on our defense then it leads to … us pushing the ball and making baskets,” senior center Krista Phillips said. “We really need to focus and get stops so we can push the ball and get out in the front court and play the way that we are used to playing.”
In Michigan’s first meeting with Ohio State in Columbus, the Wolverines had a chance to win but couldn’t capitalize. Late-game defensive stops would have made the difference in the 59-56 loss.
“Obviously, I think we could have done better on the defensive end,” sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds said after the Jan. 3 loss. “We could’ve gotten more stops, so we got to look to do that in the next game.”
And true to their word, they did improve defensively in their next game. In what became their first sweep of the season, the Wolverines held Iowa to below 30 percent shooting to defend their home court for the win.
“At the end of the game, we have to come up with defensive stops,” junior guard Veronica Hicks said after the loss to the Buckeyes. “I think we are putting ourselves in a position where we are stopping them during the game, but a couple of games like the Northwestern game … and also at Ohio State, we just didn’t get the stop. It left us with a three-point deficit. Those two games were kind of the same, and they ended up kind of the same.”
Especially for a team with an offense is fueled by defensive stops, turning swiss into solid is a must if this team is going to start winning again.
And in tonight’s home-court match-up with the Buckeyes, Michigan has a chance to prove that it can do that against the best.