EVANSTON — It started, and then it stopped. At times it went back and forth — the two teams trading baskets as they raced up and down the court. Sometimes, no one would score for minutes at a time.
But at the end of a streaky game, it was the steady shooting of the home team that made the difference.
Despite leading throughout most of the game, the Michigan women’s basketball team lost to Northwestern, 66-59, last night. And while a run of sloppy play by the Wolverines in the game’s final minutes contributed to the loss, the Wildcats were able to come back in the second half and win by hitting shot after shot.
“They had a very good streak at the end, and we had a not so good one,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “And that makes the difference in the ballgame.”
Trailing 53-49 with just over four minutes remaining in the game, Northwestern center Sarah Kwasinski nailed a jump shot to close the Wolverines’ lead to two. Michigan forwards Tabitha Pool and Jessica Starling hit free throws to keep it close. But Kwasinski drained a shot from well beyond the arc with one minute left that not only ignited the crowd, but also, essentially, put the game away.
The Wolverines allowed Northwestern (1-2 Big Ten, 4-12 overall) to score 19 points in the last five minutes of the game, while being held to just eight. A big factor in the scoring differential was the Wildcats’ ability to get to the foul line and make free throws. Guard Samantha McComb hit six shots from the charity stripe in the last three minutes of the game, two of which came with six seconds left on the clock.
Michigan (0-3, 4-10) got off to a fast start, led by Pool, who followed up a beautiful jumper by draining a 3-point shot to give her team a 7-2 lead two minutes into the game. But Pool did not score again until there was just 1:30 remaining in the half.
Pool finished the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds but missed key shots down the stretch.
“Defensively, it probably wasn’t one of Tabitha’s best performances,” Burnett said. “Offensively, teams are really going to try to take her away from us early. Late in the game, we were able to come back to her, and she really got some pretty good looks at the end. It didn’t show up (in the scoring column), but it’s still the looks we want to get.”
Both teams struggled to score for long stretches during the first half. The Wildcats were held scoreless for six minutes, and the Wolverines for four. Michigan shot 12-for-23 from the field, including 6-for-11 from beyond the arc but committed 14 turnovers and led by just two points at the half. Their up-and-down play was epitomized by forward Kelly Helvey, who drove to the basket and hit a lay-up on one possession and then turned the ball over on the next.
“We as a coaching staff are talking about (how) we can’t do a lot to analyze what defense the other team is in or staying in because we’re not possessing the ball long enough,” Burnett said. “We’re turning it over. Thus, frustration.”