Michigan women’s basketball coach Cheryl Burnett is no stranger to tonight’s opponent.
In her 15 seasons coaching at Southwest Missouri State, Burnett compiled a 23-14 record against Drake. So despite the Bulldogs’ 73-54 loss to Marquette on Friday, Burnett knows they are not easy opponents.
“It’s a team I’m very used to playing in the Missouri Valley Conference — it was always Southwest Missouri State and Drake,” Burnett said. “I have great respect for their program, their fans and their coaches.”
The Wolverines (2-1) have to look no further than last season’s game at Drake to understand Burnett’s concern.
After a 5-3 start to the season — including a surprise appearance in the preseason WNIT semifinals — the Wolverines suffered a 70-55 loss to the Bulldogs in the first meeting between the two schools last December. Drake held Michigan to just 20-for-60 shooting in the game.
While recording impressive victories over Washington and UC-Santa Barbara in its last two games has given Michigan a shot of confidence, Burnett feels the memories of last year will be enough to keep her team focused.
“I hope our three upperclassmen share in the thought that we definitely want to perform better this time,” Burnett said. “Drake is certainly a team that we did not play well against last year.”
Burnett believes her undersized team must continue to assert itself defensively in order to beat the physical and disciplined Bulldogs, who list four players at 6-foot-2 or taller compared to just one for the Wolverines.
“We’ll want to get out and pressure — we’ll always want to do that,” Burnett said. “We want to extend the floor as much as we can during the course of the game, using different press looks. Our defense is always going to be our staple of success.”
In its three games this season, Michigan has out-rebounded its bigger opponents 124-122, including a 91-73 edge on the defensive glass. And a big part of the Wolverines’ defensive success has been because of senior forward Tabitha Pool, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week yesterday. Pool is averaging 15.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, one of just two players in the Big Ten averaging a double-double. Her rebound average ranks second in the conference.
“Tabitha’s leading, she’s hitting the big shot, she’s guarding the best player, she’s communicating, she’s rebounding — she’s just doing it all,” Burnett said. “I can’t say enough about her being the cornerstone of this team.”
In Michigan’s past two games, Pool has shot an efficient 12-for-20 from the field and five-for-12 from beyond the arc. Burnett hopes that her team — which is shooting .449 — will be able to take advantage of a Drake team that allows its opponents to shoot .510 from the field.
“We always change our strategy a bit depending on our opponent,” Burnett said. “But we certainly will implement some of (our) scramble (offense).”