The game was a masterpiece – if you like defensive basketball.
But for everyone else, it was just like the melting snow outside: sloppy and dirty.
Michigan’s defense propelled its 54-42 win over Northwestern. Just three Northwestern players scored, including freshman Meisha Reed, who put up a game-high 24 points.
The Wolverine defensive effort, on the other hand, was spread more evenly across the lineup, which is why Michigan fared so well yesterday afternoon. Junior Melinda Queen came off the bench to chip in with two steals, and her total was matched by junior Jessica Minnfield and senior Krista Phillips.
“Coach emphasized a lot of things on defense,” Queen said. “I just try to do my best and the team tries to do its best to get around the post.”
Michigan’s defense swarmed the already weak Wildcat offense. Northwestern sits in the basement of the Big Ten in scoring, with lows in total points, free-throw percentage and rebounding.
Although the Wildcats took an early lead, Michigan’s defense slowed the pace of the already sloppy game and forced Northwestern into a slew of bad shots. The Wildcats shot just over 25 percent from the field and went 4-of-21 from behind the arc.
The Wolverine perimeter defense was also impressive, holding Northwestern guard Nadia Bibbs scoreless. The Wildcats became one dimensional and ran their offense through centers Amy and Ellen Jaeschke. Michigan responded by subbing in Queen and forward Stephany Skrba to shut down the pair, which scored just six points in the second half.
“I don’t know if we were trying to concentrate on anyone in particular,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We tried to keep the ball in certain areas because they were trying to dump it down inside.”
Rebounding relapse: Yesterday’s contest was a battle between the two worst rebounding teams in the Big Ten. If it’s any consolation, the Wildcats came away with the advantage in the category. They out-rebounded the Wolverines 47-40.
Michigan has been terrible on the glass this season, which is somewhat surprising given 6-foot-6 center Krista Phillips’s size.
“We’re obviously out of position and not very good at it,” Borseth said. “But we front the post and because of that, teams tend to get a lot of offensive rebounds on us and that’s just the nature of our style.”
The Wolverines have been dominated on the boards all season, losing the battle to Ohio State, 48-31, and Ohio, 40-20.
A solid effort: The Wolverines looked to their bench early and often against the Wildcats – every single player on the roster saw playing time. Queen provided the biggest spark for Michigan, scoring a career-high 12 points.
But she was not alone in her efforts. Skrba and senior Ta’Shia Walker also contributed with a combined eight points and seven rebounds.
“We’re using our bench a lot more and getting some production out of it,” Borseth said. “In fact probably some of our better athletes are coming off the bench, and Melinda’s one of them.”
Borseth’s philosophy doesn’t usually involve going to the bench, but he has done so more this year because of his players’ conditioning.
“We get tired so easily,” Borseth said. “I’m used to playing five players, five or six, maybe seven if they’re lucky. We’re developing the lung capacity. The more tired they get, the stronger you get.”