INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan went into the locker room after 20 minutes trailing Penn State 31-28. Many times during the first half, the team failed to rotate or didn’t hustle back on defense. To his surprise, though, Borseth didn’t need to tell his team that.
“I came into the locker room at halftime and one of them is diagramming things on the board,” Borseth said. “I feel bad when I walk into the locker room at halftime and there’s no chatter and I feel good when there is chatter. They’re trying to figure things out on their own because they have to be able to do that on the floor.”
And given what happened when the team took the court again, the diagramming worked.
Penn State went from shooting 34 percent in the first half to just 29 percent in the second. The Wolverines also outrebounded the Nittany Lions by eight.
“Over the course of time you’ll be surprised if you’ll give the players some latitude to make some decisions on their own,” Borseth said. “Because they do ultimately on the floor, and as a result, they’ve got to accept some responsibility for it.”
When asked who drew the diagrams that made the difference, Borseth smiled.
“(Senior) Krista Clement,” he said “Why not? She’s a true leader.”
Beneficial Bench: On paper, Michigan’s bench wasn’t the key to its 64-54 victory over Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament yesterday.
But to any onlooker, the bench made the difference in the Wolverines’ first postseason win since 2004.
Juniors Stephany Skrba and Ashley Jones, along with freshman Veronica Hicks, played a crucial role in Thursday’s game. Jones connected on three of four shots in the first half and ended the stanza with eight points. More importantly, her 10 minutes filled the void left by sophomore Krista Phillips, who was stuck on the bench for the final 11 minutes of the half after picking up two fouls. Skrba harassed the Nittany Lions, especially in the post, and also recorded a steal and four rebounds.
But Hicks was the spark after halftime.
Soon after entering the game in the second half, the freshman blocked a jump shot from Penn State’s Brianne O’Rourke. Then she found herself open after a post screen and scored on an easy layup to put the Wolverines up for good with 11 minutes left of the half.
Since the start of the year, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth has stressed the importance of the entire team – not just the starting five. Yesterday it was the off-the-bench trio of Hicks, Jones and Skrba that helped Michigan overcome a six-point deficit and start a 17-0 run to put the game out of reach.
“We were down at the time and they made some things happen,” Borseth said. “They just gave us a good, fresh set of legs. They energized us and got us back into the game. That energy really helped us.”
Notes: This year’s team is the first to reach 17 wins since the 2001-02 Michigan squad finished 17-13. . The Wolverines often struggled to hold onto the ball, box out and maintain late leads this season. But they tied their season-low of 12 turnovers, outrebounded Penn State by five and held onto a 11-point second-half lead against the Nittany Lions. . If Michigan wants to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2001, it will have to defeat second-seeded Iowa at 11:30 a.m. Michigan beat the Hawkeyes at home Dec. 30, 63-46, and lost in Iowa City Jan. 27, 66-61.