Four games out with three to play no Big Ten regular season title for the Michigan women”s basketball team. But although that was made official by Purdue”s double-overtime win against Ohio State yesterday, Michigan has its sights set on something else top five in the conference. The top five teams get a bye on the first day of the Big Ten tournament, and the Wolverines” 74-60 win over Illinois yesterday propels them past the Illini into fifth place.
“We”re back in the Big Ten, and we”re fighting for our lives,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “I feel like we”re on the bubble, and I think the kids know that we”re on the bubble, and every single game is very, very important.”
Yesterday”s contest was the first Big Ten game in two weeks for senior captain Anne Thorius, who went down with an ankle injury on January 28 against Northwestern. Her 10 points, seven assists, four steals and 38 minutes were only half of her contribution to a team that had lost two in a row. Thorius played with the emotion and excitement that seemed to be missing from her game all year and that Guevara had been asking her to unleash for months.
“I love showing emotions, I love showing how much I love playing this game. It just gets me more fired up,” Thorius said.
The senior”s attitude and play were contagious. Michigan shot an impressive 6-of-14 from behind the arc, and was able to utilize both perimeter and post play a combination that had been lacking in recent games.
Five Wolverines a balanced attack of three guards and two forwards scored in double figures. Defensively, Illinois was held to 37-percent shooting in the second half, which yielded them just six points in the first ten minutes.
The first half was highlighted by back-to-back fastbreak layups by Thorius and junior Heather Oesterle, followed by back-to-back 3-pointers by Oesterle and guard Alayne Ingram. The latter began a run by Michigan to turn a six-point Illinois lead to a one-point Wolverine lead at the half.
“I thought the second half was a much different situation,” Illinois coach Theresa Grentz said. “We did not play well at all as a unit. On the other hand, I thought Michigan played very well, very poised, very much in control of the situation.”
Michigan forced 20 turnovers, due in part to a quick zone defense and the renewed leadership of Thorius.
“From the time we stepped on the bus at 6 a.m. Friday morning, we knew we had some work to do,” Thorius said of her team”s defense, following Thursday”s disappointing loss to Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.
“Both Friday afternoon and Saturday at practice it was all defensive drills.”
The Wolverines play at home against Iowa this Thursday. They control their own destiny by winning their remaining three games, they can ensure a break on the first day of the Big Ten tournament.