After scoring 106 points during last week’s game against Slippery Rock, the Michigan women’s basketball team looked poised for another offensive breakout against Detroit on Friday.
That is, until halftime.
The Wolverines used a strong night from the field to open up the game, but ran out of gas in the second half to escape with a 70-62 win.
Losing its third forward to an ACL injury during the week in the form of redshirt junior Kendra Seto, Michigan was faced with an even tougher task of matching up with a team that grabbed 59 rebounds in its previous game. But the Wolverines did not appear overmatched to begin the game, using senior center Rachel Sheffer’s seven rebounds to grab a 17-14 advantage on the boards heading into the half.
“I knew those would be two tough matchups for us, and I was really impressed with the way Rachel came out and how she played and set the tone,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We haven’t improved our size or our athleticism up front, so I know every single night it’s definitely a concern.”
Despite the 20-minute halftime break, Michigan opened the half looking exhausted, breathing heavily during breaks. Its five starters, highlighted by senior guards Jenny Ryan and Kate Thompson, along with Sheffer, were worn down by the Titans strong post presence.
“I think rotating in and out between the three and four of us is really important,” Sheffer said. “When something goes wrong, we’ll step up and say things.”
Thompson, the team’s tallest active player at 6-foot-4, played on the outside from the majority of her 18 minutes, leaving Sheffer to handle forwards Shareta Brown and Yar Shayok. The Titan duo combined for 31 points on the night.
The Wolverines, also making the transition to a 2-3 zone defense after the injuries to their frontcourt, were picked apart to begin the game. Sophomore guard Audrey Matteson scored the Titans’ first nine points on three consecutive 3-point buckets.
Michigan settled down to hold Detroit to 25 points in the half, as they switched between a man-to-man defense after missed baskets and the zone following made baskets.
“I think it’s always good to be able to mix it up against teams,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes if you stay in something to long a period of time they figure it out. I think also, defensive-transition wise, it’s a lot tougher to transition into the zone. But I want to make sure we’re getting better man-to-man teams, so if we have to play man-to-man we’re capable of doing it.”
The strategy fell apart in the second half when the Wolverines went cold from the field, struggling to keep up with a fresher Detroit squad. Of the 12 active payers on the roster, Barnes Arico used just three other players for 19 combined minutes. Michigan shot 37 percent from the field in the second half.
Sophomore guard Nicole Elmblad was the lone player to compete in all 40 minutes of the game, with Ryan playing in all but one minute. Barnes Arico rarely looked to her bench, though, sticking to her strengths of a small lineup the entire night.
“It’s player development,” Barnes Arico said. “They have to spend more time in the gym. They have to raise their level of play each and every practice, so that way they become consistent and that way I feel confident getting them in the game. Right now, they’re not at the same level as probably the six-person rotation that we had.”
But with a last push, the Wolverines out-muscled their way past the Titans despite losing the battle of the boards, 36-33.
“I just think with games, it’s a matter of streaks,” Ryan said. “It’s the first game, so streaks are going to happen throughout any game. For our first game, we handled it well.”
A 20-minute streak, though, may not be enough in games later in the season.