INDIANAPOLIS — The Michigan women’s basketball team has a fairly simple offensive game plan that it tries to execute every game.
The Wolverines depend on getting the ball into the key, whether it is by their slashing guards or working it into the post, and then either finishing from down low or dishing the ball out to their talented outside shooters.
Night in and night out, Michigan relies on its outside shooting either to score or to get the ball into the post.
Against Illinois on Friday, the Wolverines couldn’t do either effectively, which eventually doomed them against a team with the worst record in the Big Ten.
Even though Michigan played solid defense, it never found offensive rhythm from anywhere on the court. Despite getting plenty of open looks, the Wolverines couldn’t capitalize consistently. Whether in the post, perimeter or midrange, it didn’t matter — Michigan simply couldn’t find the net.
“We were getting some good looks, and the people we wanted to shoot were shooting it and they weren’t falling for us,” senior guard Veronica Hicks said after the game. “They were making shots and we weren’t.”
The Wolverines shot just 37 percent from the floor, including 27 percent from beyond the 3-point line. After a certain point, the Fighting Illini could relax a little more around the perimeter, knowing Michigan was having trouble making shots. That led to increased pressure inside, making it very difficult for the Wolverine post players to do anything in the paint.
Perhaps the Wolverine player most affected by the Illinois defense was sophomore forward Rachel Sheffer. When Michigan played Illinois last Sunday, Sheffer scored 23 points, including the game-winning layup. This time around, she scored just six points and was shut down by a stiff defense all game.
“They gave it to me when I was open, and when I started making a move I just saw my other players wide open around the 3,” Sheffer said. “It just came down to hitting shots and we weren’t making any of them.”
TOURNAMENT HOPES: Michigan went into the game against Illinois feeling very confident about their NCAA Tournament chances. Win one game, and the Wolverines would be all but guaranteed a bid to play in March Madness. Instead, Michigan will head into Selection Monday on March 14 unsure of its chances to go dancing.
Historically, the top four seeds in the Big Ten have typically been given a bid, but usually all four seeds have 20 or more wins. Michigan finished the regular season third in the Big Ten with just 17 wins after it won a three-way tiebreaker.
“It is what it is, we put our fate in the hands of somebody else and from here you just wait and see — you hope for the best and expect the worse,” sophomore Jenny Ryan said. “We want to meet our goal of the NCAA Tournament and in my heart, I’m confident, but it’s in the hands of somebody else at this point.”
INCONSISTENCY: Michigan has plenty of wins against good teams, but they also have a couple of losses against bad teams. If the Wolverines do not end up making the NCAA Tournament, key losses against bad teams will be the reason.
Michigan went an astounding 5-0 against the fourth- (Iowa), fifth- (Ohio State), and sixth-place (Wisconsin) teams in the Big Ten, which gave them the third-place tiebreaker. Those wins were pivotal for the Wolverines, but a few important losses could have more meaning for the postseason.
Along with Thursday’s loss against Illinois, they also lost to conference bottom-feeder Minnesota twice. Before the Big Ten season began, Michigan lost to Detroit Mercy, who finished 6-11 in the not-so-menacing Horizon League.
Those losses could come back to hurt Michigan and its chances to go dancing in March.