Last season’s shadow of failure has been something the Michigan women’s basketball team has been trying to escape, but after yesterday’s 89-57 loss to Illinois, it still looms.
The Wolverines have now begun the conference season 0-2 – following last Thursday’s loss to Minnesota – after an impressive 9-2 nonconference schedule that had them ranked sixth in the nation’s RPI ratings.
“I went into the lockerroom and I said, ‘All right, I’m going to say it,'” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “I’m going to say what you’re all thinking. Here we go again.'”
Illinois’ athleticism proved to be too much for the Wolverines. A stingy Illini defense kept Michigan from entering the ball into senior LeeAnn Bies and junior Jennifer Smith. With their bread and butter taken from them, the Wolverines’ corps of young guards couldn’t handle the pressure, and the Illini were presented with a handful of fast breaks.
“When you can’t even get a shot off and you have a turnover, that’s really frustrating,” Bies said. “After a while we’d get a shot off and miss it, but I was happy we’d even get a shot off.”
A bulk of that pressure came with 10:01 left in the first half, when Illinois turned a 22-16 lead into a 46-21 lead by halftime. The run included a 7:44 scoring drought for the Wolverines.
“I was totally in shock and stunned at how we played the first half,” Guevara said. “I was embarrassed. I’ve never seen that team play (like that).”
Michigan was never able to cut into the 25 point lead. The closest Michigan came to Illinois in the second half was 20, after a five-point spurt created by a Smith field goal and one of sophomore Tabitha Pool’s two 3-pointers.
As was the running theme of the game, though, Michigan failed to execute on any opportunity Illinois gave it. Freshman Nikki Reams brought the ball down on a fast break in the ensuing possession, but threw the ball out of bounds, off sophomore Sierra Hauser-Price’s under the basket leg.
Michigan committed 29 turnovers on the game, including eight from Pool, the leading scorer with 14 points.
The game’s final stat sheet displayed an array of numbers unfamiliar to Michigan followers. Along with their turnover problem, the Wolverines managed to shoot just 38.6 percent from the field and a shocking 50 percent from the free-throw line.
They also allowed the Illini to shoot better than 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
“We’ve got to get people to adjust to us,” Illinois coach Theresa Grentz said. “You have to make a lot of sacrifices then, and that was the difference you saw out there.”