Going into the season, 70 percent of the Michigan roster had never played in a collegiate game. Accordingly, many of the players did not have experience competing in hostile atmospheres. In their 60-43 loss at Purdue on Sunday, the Wolverines were introduced to Mackey Arena — a loud, raucous crowd that was all too willing to let the officials know if they had made a mistake.
“I think (Mackey) affects teams a lot,” Purdue forward Lindsay Wisdom-Hylton said. “We were talking about this the other day. Everyone is so close, so the crowd is right there to get in their heads — make them turn over the ball.”
At the beginning of the season, senior forward Tabitha Pool knew that it was important for the upperclassmen to teach the freshmen how to approach road games. Purdue’s home court proved to be a test of how much the freshmen learned from Pool, senior BreAnne McPhilamy and sophomore Kelly Helvey — the three non-freshmen on the team.
Throughout the game, the large Purdue crowd of 11,783 fans yelled and harassed both the officials and the Wolverines. Because of their intensity, the Boilermaker fans even seemed to affect Michigan’s plays as they were being called out. But the coaching staff thought the young Wolverines responded well.
“It’s a great game environment,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “I thought our players responded extremely well. Something (that has) affected (us) regardless of the numbers in the crowd has been turnovers. I really don’t think that the crowd was the problem, but I never underestimate the homecourt advantage.”
Let’s get physical: The Big Ten is known as a physical and rough conference, and Sunday’s game was no exception. The game featured many loose balls, hustle plays and even an accidental elbow to the nose.
“I think we were hustling, diving on the floor,” Pool said. “Everybody was contributing, and that really helps.”
In the first eight minutes of the game, Michigan shot just 11 percent from the field but was still making hustle plays. At one point, freshman point guard Krista Clement dove on the floor to retrieve a loose ball. She was able to flip the ball to Pool, who converted the layup. With the Wolverines struggling from the field, it was imperative that they took advantage of high-percentage opportunities.
With less than a minute left in the first half, freshman forward Ta’Shia Walker grabbed a rebound and looked for a teammate to receive her outlet pass. As she swung her elbow around, she hit Purdue sophomore Erin Lawless in the nose. The foul seemed to energize Lawless, as she scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half.
“As soon as I got hit in the nose, it kind of brought up the spark,” Lawless said. “We just knew that they were going to be tough and come in hard defensively.”
Cashing in: Michigan shot a season-low 28 percent from the field, but was able to hit its free throws to stay in the game until late in the second half. With everyone but Walker struggling with her shooting, getting to the free throw line proved to be the difference for much of the first half.
“(Making free throws is) important, which means we have to attack the basket and draw more fouls,” Pool said. “It kept us in the ballgame a little more.”