It’s the question that each member of the Michigan women’s basketball team dreads having to answer. The Wolverines thought that a tough but successful nonconference schedule would silence the critics, but the team was only walking into a trap. Now, after the Wolverines dropped their first two Big Ten games in blowout fashion, the critics are asking, “Is this a repeat of last year?”
“I’m not fond of the question,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “But I’m going to be honest. I went into the lockerroom and said ‘I’m going to say what you’re thinking. Here we go again.'”
If the Wolverines are headed down that road again, they had better buckle up. Last year’s path contained a 6-10 Big Ten record and a second-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament after a 10-1 start.
Michigan’s 98-70 loss to No. 10 Minnesota Jan. 2, while disappointing, still seemed excusable. The Wolverines innocently wandered into the Golden Gophers’ home at exactly the wrong time. Minnesota shot 60.7 percent from the field, including 9-of-15 from behind the 3-point arc. It was an offense that refused to be stopped, and Michigan happened to be the victim of the day.
Sunday’s game against upstart Illinois gave Michigan fans a reason to start raising eyebrows. The Wolverines played their worst game of the year, committing 29 turnovers and shooting just 38.6 percent from the field. At one point in the first half, Michigan went 7:44 without scoring, letting the Illini take a 46-21 lead into halftime. The Wolverines were never closer than 20 the rest of the game.
The immediate future does not look much brighter either. Michigan will be traveling to West Lafayette Sunday to face No. 6 Purdue, a perennial powerhouse. Purdue beat Michigan three times last season, with one of those victories coming in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Led by Naismith Award candidate Shereka Wright, the Boilermakers look to be a handful once again this year.
But Michigan may have to worry about more than just its opponents. Each game for the athletes will be just as much a battle against themselves as anyone else.
History is working against the Wolverines, and that fact can play terrible tricks on a player’s mind during crunch time.
“They still believe,” Guevara said, “But they’re hurting, and they’re afraid. So we have to conquer our own fear, and that we have to do in practice.”
Problems that the Wolverines had seemingly settled early in the year are now coming back to haunt them. The Wolverines have committed 49 turnovers the past two games, a telling sign that their freshmen backcourt may not be as tested as hoped.
The Wolverines have also struggled from the free-throw line, a part of their inside game that is normally solid. Sunday’s mark of 50 percent was the lowest it’s been all season.
“It’s every game at a time in the Big Ten,” senior co-captain Raina Goodlow said. “And we know that. We still have to fight. It’s just the second game in the Big Ten.”