After a gritty 63-59 victory over Kentucky, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said his team was lucky to pull out the win.
Looking at how Michigan has handled the ball recently, he might be onto something.
Five of the last six games, the Wolverines committed more turnovers than their opponents.
But this time around, Kentucky couldn’t take advantage. The Wildcats translated 22 Michigan turnovers into just 10 points.
In each of their three losses this season, the Wolverines have allowed an average of 26 points off turnovers. And at 20 turnovers a game, Michigan is on pace to turn the ball over more than last season (19.1 per game). If the Wolverines don’t cut this number down, good teams will pounce on their mistakes, which they learned many times last season.
Despite the sloppy play at both ends of the court Saturday, Michigan battled through the 14 ties, 17 lead changes and general sloppiness of the game on both ends of the court.
“I thought the difference for us tonight was we played hard,” Borseth said. “We had two great days of practice getting ready for this. The whole focus of this was to play with a sense of urgency, and I thought defensively we did a pretty good job.”
Get low: From the opening whistle, the Wolverines made it clear they wanted more interior production.
Sophomore Krista Phillips took the ball inside on Michigan’s first three possessions. And though none of those drives resulted in points (her first field goal came 90 seconds later), Phillips and senior Ta’Shia Walker were key components of the Wolverines’ offense.
“We’ve been trying to put (Phillips) down low the whole year, to be honest with you,” Borseth said. “We really have been. When we want to get it in, we got to score inside there. That’s a battle you ought to win every game.”
Michigan shot from all over the floor in the first half and went 3-for-8 from behind the 3-point line. But in the second half, Michigan relied on its post presence and took all but four shots inside of the paint.
Walker, who came off the bench to lead the Wolverines with 13 points in 13 minutes, backed the defense down, including a give-and-go play from Clement for the easy layup.
Michigan finished with 30 points in the key. The vast improvement came just one game after the Wolverines were outscored inside 40-12 by Notre Dame.
By golly, I think she’s got it: Emerging as the Wolverines’ assist leader, senior captain Krista Clement seems to have finally gotten another part of her game down – her shot.
This season, Clement stumbled out of the gates in the scoring department, shooting a measly .194 before Saturday’s matchup.
But with Clement going two-for-two in the game’s opening minutes, Saturday night was surely different. The four-year captain finished 4-for-6 from the field and reached double figures for the first time in nearly two years.
And if you ask Borseth, it’s about time.
“The kid was here all summer until 11 p.m.,” Borseth said. “She is in the gym religiously. If anybody deserves to play well, it’s Krista. She’s such a smart and heady player, a good leader.”
With Clement transforming into a backcourt threat, the Wolverines opened up the floor a bit more than usual, allowing better looks inside.
But even though she’s starting to score more, she won’t take credit for it.
“People were really penetrating and kicking a lot more,” Clement said. “I’ve been getting a lot of shots. (Assistant) coach (Mike) Williams has been getting my base a little wider. I’ve been making small adjustments.”
If her success continues, those small adjustments will make huge dividends.