INDIANAPOLIS – The Michigan women’s basketball team pulled off one of the biggest disappearing acts in Big Ten Tournament history.
And it only took two possessions.
On their opening possession, the Wolverines used more than five passes to earn their first points, courtesy of sophomore Krista Phillips. But they became stagnant for the final 39 minutes as Iowa rolled past Michigan, 58-37, Friday at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Wolverines’ 37 points was a season low for Michigan and the lowest point total in Big Ten tournament history.
“We just couldn’t score,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We couldn’t find any rhythm, and what we do is just so predicated on having players that can create for themselves.”
While the Michigan offense struggled to find a rhythm, the defense had trouble making stops early. Whether it was Iowa guard Kristi Smith scoring triples or forward Johanna Solverson driving straight to the hoop, the Wolverines couldn’t handle the Hawkeyes’ size and balanced attack.
Part of the problem was sophomore Stephany Skrba’s disappearance. After picking up two fouls in her first two minutes, she didn’t see any action for the rest of the first half. Borseth admitted he should have put her back in, and Michigan missed her size on the boards. Iowa gathered 14 offensive rebounds for 17 points on the game.
Finding themselves with an 11-point deficit at halftime, the Wolverines changed their initial defensive strategy to emphasize guarding the paint in the second stanza and found success. For the first six minutes of the period, Michigan (10-10 Big Ten, 17-13 overall) forced four turnovers, blocked two shots and limited the Hawkeyes (14-6, 21-10) to just two points.
But as the Wolverines’ pressure paid off on the defensive end, they didn’t make the most of their scoring opportunities, tallying just four points in the same time frame. They shot 4-for-22 from the field in the half and just 27 percent in the game.
“We did a great job defensively,” Borseth said. “And to start the second half, we came out with a quick two and two wide open threes and a layup that we missed. Had we made those, all of a sudden – boom – you’re right back in the game. But we didn’t score.”
After staying even with the Hawkeyes for half of the second period, Michigan’s intensity on defense eventually vanished.
Uncharacteristically, the Wolverines took care of the ball better than in any other game this season. Michigan turned the ball over just 11 times to Iowa’s 17, but couldn’t convert takeaways into points. The Hawkeyes outscored them on points off turnovers, 10-9.
And while Michigan’s Big Ten Championship and NCAA Tournament hopes were erased, Borseth believes the team has earned its way to a WNIT bid.
“We’ve done a pretty good job with positioning ourselves, I hope,” Borseth said. “It’s not an easy conference, obviously. We had five games that were really determined by the last one or two minutes of the game. Had we won those games, things would have been a lot different.”
But even if the Wolverines can’t grab one of those 17 at-large spots, it won’t diminish the impact Borseth has made on his players in his first season in Ann Arbor.
“He makes basketball fun, especially after the last three years we’ve had to go through were pretty rough,” Carly Benson said tearfully. “He’s really turned things around and everything we’ve been able to accomplish is because of him.”