Michigan coach Kevin Borseth has called on the bench to energize and refuel the Michigan women’s basketball team in times of need this season.
The bench averages 23.3 points per game, which is one of the best marks in the conference.
But the bench scored just five points during the Wolverine’s 60-49 loss to No. 22 Purdue on Thursday. With 19 points coming from their bench, the Boilermakers were right at their season average.
“All year, our bench has really given us a boost,” said Purdue coach Sharon Versyp. “Our last couple of games, it hasn’t been that way. Your bench has to play well, whether it’s the first half or second half. There’s got to be something, and our bench, defensively and offensively, did a good job for us.”
Michigan’s 18-point fall off from its season average would’ve been enough to secure a victory. The poor showing by the bench also contributed to a season-low scoring total for Michigan. And along with being near absent in the scoring column, the bench also tallied six turnovers.
During the first half, Michigan’s bench wasn’t just quiet — it was nonexistent. It didn’t score a point and only tallied two rebounds: one apiece from junior guard Kate Thompson and junior forward Sam Arnold.
Looking for an answer in the second half to cut Purdue’s four-point lead, Borseth continued to go with the bench. He didn’t find an answer.
Following an 0-for-7 shooting performance in the first half, the bench finished 4-for-19 for the game. Borseth said that a team can’t win shooting 37 percent — what the Wolverines shot on Thursday. They certainly can’t win games when the bench shoots 21 percent.
Thompson, who usually revitalizes Michigan, had one of her worst games of the season. The Minnesota native has averaged 8.1 points per game but didn’t tally a single point against Purdue, going 0-for-6 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line.
She logged 31 minutes, 11 more than her season average. But at 6-foot-4, her defensive presence was necessary, as Purdue boasts one of the biggest lineups in the Big Ten. Specifically, Borseth said Thompson played more minutes in order to guard 6-foot senior Brittany Rayburn. But even with Thompson’s extra height, Rayburn still scored 15 points.
“Some people have those nights,” said senior guard Courtney Boylan. “I’m sure a lot of her efforts were focused on Rayburn, and when you’re really focused on defense like that, sometimes it’s harder to hit shots. You can’t fault her. (Thompson) gives a 100-percent effort all the time, and she’s been coming off the bench and producing for us all year.”
As the bench goes, so Michigan goes. The Wolverines are currently on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and with only one regular-season game remaining, the bench will continue to play a critical role in the team’s postseason aspirations. Borseth understands the significance of finally making the postseason, along with how important the bench has been to the Wolverines and will continue to be.
“We’ve always thought (the bench) has been a strength for us, and it still is, but we’ve got to be able to rebound from this game and get those kids ready to play,” he said. “Every game we play now is important.”