Janelle Cooper certainly isn’t the biggest player on the floor. But the 5-foot-10 freshman has a knack for putting herself in the right place at the right time. After opening the season with a 13-point, eight-rebound performance against Alabama, the forward was relatively quiet in her next two games. But Cooper made her presence felt in last night’s 61-60 loss against Drake. With her strong dribble-penetration and three offensive boards, Cooper took her game straight at the Bulldogs’ interior defense. The result: a career-high 14 points, second on the team after Tabitha Pool.
“Coach (Burnett) always talks about how she wants us to hustle, wants us to go get rebounds, wants us to dive on the floor,” Cooper said. “And I want to do that for her. I don’t care about scoring — we have a lot of people who contribute in many ways, and I think if I hustle, I can help my team.”
But last night, Cooper’s scoring was a major factor, and allowed the Wolverines to maintain a lead for much of the game. She also made the most of her opportunities with the basketball, going 5-for-6 from the field. Perhaps most importantly, Cooper showed tremendous energy on a night when Michigan struggled to maintain its focus.
“She is such a competitor,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “She’s very confident, she’s learned extremely well. She gave us some fight and some determination.”
Defensive breakdown: In its first three games, Drake shot just 39 percent from the field. But a trip to Crisler Arena was the cure for the Bulldogs’ shooting woes. Drake made 48 percent of its field goals last night.
“Our defense, I don’t know what happened,” Helvey said. “They just kept driving and driving and things kind of fell apart. We talked a lot in the locker room about having our defense pull together — you say it, but I don’t think anyone did it.”
Late in the game, the Wolverines simply did not have an answer defensively. Drake poured in 14 points in the last four minutes, allowing them to fight back from a nine-point deficit.
“When we’re giving up 52 percent in the second half, that means we’re not doing what we need to do defensively,” Burnett said. “(Most) of their scores were dribble penetrations to the rim. We just can’t afford to let that happen against our defense.”
Taking care of the rock: Since opening the season with a 25-turnover performance against Alabama, the Wolverines have made major strides in their protection of the basketball. Michigan’s turnover total has come down each game, reaching a season-low total of seven last night.
Its backcourt protected the ball particularly well, as ballhandlers Becky Flippin, Krista Clement and Kelly Helvey didn’t commit a single turnover. Meanwhile, the Wolverines forced 17 turnovers, including a season-high ten steals.
But protecting the ball didn’t necessarily lead to better production offensively, as Michigan shot 41.4 percent from the field.