Michigan women’s basketball coach Kevin Borseth has always emphasized the next play.
But after several slow starts, maybe the focus should shift to the first play.
And the first play is only as good as the starting lineup.
In Michigan’s loss against Notre Dame Sunday, Borseth stared sophomore Krista Phillips in place of junior Carly Benson. He made the move to get more rebounds and scoring in the paint.
While Phillips reached one objective (tying the game-high at eight rebounds), she, as well as senior Ta’Shia Walker, struggled to take control inside on offense.
Although the switch didn’t provide the offensive spark Michigan needed, Borseth is committed to finding his lineup.
“It takes time,” Borseth said after the 77-46 loss. “That’s why we’re going to let these five kids figure it out. They’ll learn to play as a group cohesively. As long as the other nine players that are watching them support them, they’re going to be all right. They’re going to figure it out.”
Much of the figuring out has already happened in the backcourt. Junior Jessica Minnfield, senior captain Janelle Cooper and senior captain Krista Clement have started all six games this season.
Since each of the guards average more than 30 minutes on the court, Borseth has made this part of the lineup pretty clear.
The clarity is refreshing compared to last year’s indecision.
Former Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett used 14 starting lineups last season and played no Wolverine more than 26 minutes per game. No lineup lasted more than four games.
Borseth, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in changing the lineup all too often. His first starting lineup lasted five games. He explains that messing too much with the starters just creates confusion and a lack of confidence.
With the three guards outside, all the Wolverines have left is wondering what works best down low.
As of now, the only lock seems to be Walker. What she lacks in her size, she makes up for with basketball IQ, which Borseth frequently commends.
But who should join her?
The candidates seem to be junior Stephanie Skrba, Phillips and Benson.
Benson, who started in the season’s first five games, has the ability to be an inside-outside threat. Benson lead the Wolverines in field goals and 3-pointers made last season. But her recent struggles with rebounding and shooting (33.3 percent from the field) hold her back.
A 6-foot-6 center, Phillips provides a threat to post defenders, but she struggles to go toward the basket, opting to pass the ball back out on the perimeter too often. Borseth said the way to cure this is by getting her more touches down low. But Phillips needs to help herself by not picking up unnecessary fouls.
Skrba shoots well but at times seems timid with the ball during games. At 6-foot-2 and with tremendous leaping ability, she could be the answer to the Wolverine’s rebounding woes. Before the Notre Dame game, Skrba, not Phillips, was Michigan’s leader on the boards.
But no matter whom Michigan chooses, Borseth said the situation will play itself out.
“We’re going to stay the course,” Borseth said. “We’re going to do what we do, do whatever it takes and just don’t make any excuses and keep on going.”
And with the last few blowouts coming as a harsh reality, Walker understands that Borseth’s process to get the right combination takes time.
“He’s trying to see matchups, see who plays well with whom,” Walker said. “I know me and KP have really had the opportunity to play together the last couple weekends when we originally weren’t going to play together at all.”
But once the five start playing together, Borseth is sure the Wolverines will get it.
“If we play five kids for the rest of the year, those five kids are going to figure it out,” Borseth said. “And I guarantee you, I promise you, at the end of this year, you’re going to see a different team.”