GRAND RAPIDS The Michigan women”s basketball team relied primarily on seven players in the 2000-01 season, and its bench got even shallower for the Big Ten Tournament.
Junior Heather Oesterle suffered a sprained knee during a rebounding drill during the Tuesday practice before the tournament began.
“I got hit on the outside of the knee and I felt the shift in it,” Oesterle said. “It”s pretty painful.”
Dressed in street clothes, Oesterle had no hope of playing in Grand Rapids. A doctor will examine her MRI results on Wednesday before the team determines whether or not she will be ready for the next stanza of the postseason.
Often the first player off the bench as either a small forward or a shooting guard, Oesterle played in all 27 games, averaging 23.6 minutes an outing.
Entering the tournament as the team”s third-most consistent threat from beyond the arc, shooting 34 percent on 3-pointers, and tied with forward Raina Goodlow as the second-leading rebounder with 4.8 a game, her absence heightened the other Wolverines” sense of responsibility.
“We knew that we were going to miss her presence today,” Anne Thorius said after the 66-60 win over Penn State in Michigan”s first game of the tournament. “She might not have been scoring a lot in the past but she”ll do the garbage things. Everyone knew today that they had to pick up the slack for her.”
Most of the burden fell on the starters, who averaged 37 minutes each for both games this past weekend. Goodlow played 37 and 39 minutes. Her previous high in minutes had been 34 in the season”s first game. Center LeeAnn Bies who, like Goodlow, averaged 27 minutes a game, played 36 and 30 minutes.
As a result, not many other Wolverines saw much action. Coach Sue Guevara substituted a total of three different players into the games, including senior Katie Dykhouse in just the final minute of play in the 74-55 loss to Purdue.
In contrast, Penn State and Purdue had eight players with double-digit minutes in their games against Michigan. The Wolverines were outscored in points off the bench 27-5 for the tournament.
“They were productive defensively and offensively and did a nice job on the boards,” Purdue coach Kristy Curry said of her bench players. “That definitely was a big boost for us and their energy and intensity was outstanding.”
Both of Michigan”s opponents had substituted three different players into the action before Guevara made her first personnel move. She put in guard Infini Robinson at the 11:22 mark of the first half against Penn State and waited even longer with the Boilermakers when center Jennifer Smith entered with 9:22 left before halftime.
“Heather getting hurt was definitely an issue,” Robinson said. “She”s usually a nice perimeter (player) off the bench, so I did have to step in and give quality minutes. But it wasn”t too much pressure. I knew what I had to do and I had to step in and play for Heather.”
But Robinson and Smith combined for just 1-of-6 shooting in their 32 minutes over the two games.
“We didn”t really compare benches,” Smith said. “We just knew we had to come out and play and execute on offense and we didn”t do that.”
Robinson had tough matchups in her outings, going head-to-head with the co-National Freshman of the Year in Penn State”s Kelly Mazzante and then the Big Ten Player of the Year Katie Douglas from Purdue. Smith was in the low post with an All-Big Ten Second Team center in Penn State”s Maren Walseth and then a First Team center in Purdue”s Camille Cooper.
Michigan”s bench went from shallow to non-existent at the end of the Purdue game when Smith reinjured an old ankle sprain with 11:19 to go and then Bies fouled out with 4:27 left.
“The loss of Heather Oesterle was even more evident” during the Purdue game, Guevara said. “I thought Smitty struggled all weekend, she really did. She has got this tournament out of her system so she”ll be ready for the NCAA Tournament.”