The season came full circle for the Michigan women’s basketball team yesterday. It lost 76-63 to Big Ten powerhouse Minnesota, the team that sent the Wolverines on their vicious cycle of losses at the beginning of the season.
While the No. 13 Golden Gophers couldn’t manage the 98 points that they poured onto Michigan in January, they still proved themselves the superior team in Crisler Arena in a game that seemed like business as usual for Minnesota.
The teams traded baskets to open up the game, but a stifling Minnesota trap defense handcuffed the inexperienced Wolverine backcourt, forcing some sloppy ballhandling. The Gophers capitalized with 10 points off of turnovers in the first half, and a 19-4 run that lasted 7:20 was enough to keep Minnesota up for good.
“We knew coming in that pressure was going to bother (Michigan), especially with the trap and their young guards” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “I think every Big Ten team knows each other like the back of their hand and that was one thing we wanted to take advantage of.”
Minnesota’s lead hovered just below 10 points for most of the second half. Junior Lindsay Whalen led all scorers with a reasonably quiet 21 points. The Wolverines were most noticeably hurt by Minnesota’s senior Corrin Von Wald’s 18 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
The Gophers shot 7-of-12 as a team from beyond the arc, serving the Wolverines more problems from the guard position, a spot they’ve had trouble defending all year.
On the flip side, Michigan gave the Minnesota guards some problems of their own, picking up a number of points off the drive – a tactic that has been absent in the Wolverines’ gameplan for most of the season.
“I thought our penetration was better today than it has been,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “But it’s a matter of finishing. We were able to get to the basket, we just had problems putting it in the hole.”
With the victory, Minnesota (12-4 Big Ten, 24-4 overall) wrapped up the second seed for Thursday’s upcoming Big Ten Tournament. While a Penn State victory over Wisconsin negated any chance for a share of the Big Ten title, Minnesota’s conference and overall marks are still the school’s best in the NCAA era, an impressive feat for a program in disrepair only two years ago.
The Wolverines seem to have replaced the Gophers as the Big Ten team facing major problems. After reaching the NCAA Tournament two years ago, Michigan has suffered two straight years of disappointing Big Ten seasons (6-10, 3-13) after promising nonconference starts. The only hope of any type of postseason play for Michigan is if the team runs the table at the Big Ten Tournament.
“I don’t know if I’d call it a relief (finishing the regular season),” senior LeeAnn Bies said. “But now it’s time to go. It’s one and done.”
Bies was honored during a pregame ceremony along with fifth-year senior Raina Goodlow, as they played their final game at Crisler Arena. The emotions may have transferred to the rest of the team, who opened the game with a noticeable amount of energy, but it wasn’t enough for a win.
“We all said in the huddle before the game that we wanted to play for Raina and Bies,” junior Jennifer Smith said. “I think we played hard for them this game.”