MADISON — For the last six minutes of its game against Wisconsin, the Michigan women’s basketball team showed its true offensive potential. The Wolverines scored 26 points in that span, drilling six 3-pointers.
“I guess we’re the team that, at least, never says die,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “We really tried to have a comeback, which I’m proud of our kids (for).”
But it was Michigan’s inconsistent and sloppy performance over the first 34 minutes that proved to be the deciding factor. By committing 20 turnovers and allowing 38 points in the paint, the Wolverines dug themselves into an insurmountable 20-point deficit. In the end, Michigan’s last-ditch comeback proved to be too little, too late. Wisconsin (2-6 Big Ten, 8-10 overall) held on, coming away with a 79-71 victory in front of 7,221 people at the Kohl Center.
“Our turnovers created some really easy opportunities for them in the open floor that I don’t think we guarded very well,” Burnett said. “It made the difference in the ballgame.”
Despite their struggles for most of the game, the Wolverines did not give up. Wisconsin had a 65-45 lead with 5:45 to go in the game, but freshman co-captain Krista Clement’s triple signaled a change in momentum. After freshman Ta’Shia Walker and sophomore Kelly Helvey each drained two free throws, senior co-captain Tabitha Pool took over. Within a minute and a half, Pool drilled two 3-pointers and made two put-backs off the offensive glass, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 69-62 with 1:55 to go. Riding Pool’s game-high 28 points, the Wolverines suddenly had a fighting chance.
As Pool drew increased attention from Badger defenders, freshman Becky Flippin heated up from long range. The point guard put on a shooting exhibition, hitting three 3-pointers in the last minute of the game.
“What triggers (an offensive run), so often, is getting the basketball to Tabitha in really tough situations,” Burnett said. “Late in the game, she’s doing a lot of creating and finding our shooters. She’s kicking and really creating some open shooting situations, and that’s what occurred, especially late in the game.”
But Wisconsin never let Michigan get too close. Although the Badgers couldn’t slow Michigan’s incredible long-range shooting — the Wolverines finished 12-21 from 3-point range — Wisconsin made up for it with clutch free throw shooting on its end. The Badgers made all 16 of their second half free throws, including eight in the last two minutes to hold Michigan at bay.
“Everyone believed in the team and knew that we had it under control,” Wisconsin forward Ebba Gebisa said. “It would have been nice to have extended our lead more, but I think everyone definitely felt confident that we would take care of it.”
The wild finish was just one aspect of an entertaining, high-octane affair. Michigan jumped out to an early 15-9 lead thanks to aggressive play by Pool, who scored six points in the first six minutes.
“We really tried to emphasize starting the game well, and I really feel like we did that,” Burnett said.
But Wisconsin’s offensive star, freshman Jolene Anderson, wouldn’t let Pool steal the spotlight. With 8:02 to go in the half and the Wolverines holding onto a 23-16 lead, Anderson went wild. She scored eight points in the next three minutes, sparking a 19-5 Wisconsin run.
Despite Anderson’s dominating stretch, Michigan finished the half on a positive note. With 10 seconds to go, Pool grabbed a defensive board and passed to Clement along the right foul-line extended. Clement then fired a picture-perfect crosscourt pass to Flippin, who swished a 3-pointer as time expired, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 35-31.
Michigan’s momentum didn’t last long. The Badgers controlled the first 14 minutes of the second half, outscoring Michigan 30-14 during that stretch. The Wolverines’ ineptitude was most apparent during a four-minute scoreless drought in which they committed three turnovers and gave up 10 consecutive Wisconsin points. But the Badgers eventually built a lead so great that even the Wolverines’ best offensive performance of the season couldn’t put them over the top.