INDIANAPOLIS — After the Michigan women’s basketball team opened the season with a 79-point performance on the road against Alabama, it appeared that scoring would not be a major issue. But as the season progressed, the Wolverines’ inability to produce offensively proved to be the team’s Achilles heel, culminating in a season-ending stretch of dismal offensive performances. The Wolverines scored 43 points or less in four of their last six games, including Thursday’s 70-42 Big Ten Tournament loss to Iowa.
“Probably the thing that has been most difficult is not being able to gain that offensive confidence,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “There are many reasons for that. I guess if we figured out the reasons it wouldn’t have happened. (We haven’t been) able to gain confidence during a game to know that we’ll be able to score that basket and build the young players’ confidence along with that.”
In Thursday’s matchup, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder employed a 2-3 zone to stifle Michigan’s offensive rhythm. With athletic guard Crystal Smith hounding the Wolverines on the perimeter, and a litany of large Hawkeyes patrolling the paint, the strategy proved to be extraordinarily effective.
“I just felt like we did very well defensively,” Bluder said. “We wanted to make them prove it from outside. We respect (Michigan senior co-captain) Tabitha Pool, as far as her penetration, very much. And we don’t match up with her very well. So we felt like zone was the best way to go.”
Despite Pool’s outstanding athletic ability, she was unable to find open looks against the intense interior pressure of Iowa’s zone. She finished with just nine points on 4-for-16 shooting.
With Pool struggling, the Wolverines were forced to look elsewhere for offensive production. Senior BreAnne McPhilamy picked up some of the slack, searching out the soft spots in the zone to score a career-high 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting. But beyond McPhilamy’s jumpshots from the elbow, Michigan simply could not find open shots. The Wolverines were forced to hoist up contested long-range attempts, and they went just 3-for-23 from downtown. And with Iowa making clutch baskets on the other end, Michigan never strung together more than five consecutive points.
“There’s no question, that offensively, we have certain people that can do certain things well,” Burnett said. “And we have limitations. Once people take away what our strengths are, we absolutely have some difficult times scoring.”
The Iowa game was the culmination of a trend haunting the Wolverines throughout the latter part of the season. They shot a combined 32 percent in their final seven games, all of which were against opponents they had played earlier in the season.
“There’s nothing really that’s changed or that we’ve gotten worse at,” Burnett said. “It’s just that the scouting reports get better.”
Iowa proved to be the perfect example of the Michigan’s dwindling offensive production against teams they previously played. In the Wolverines’ first contest against the Hawkeyes on Jan. 27, they scored 61 points on 39 percent shooting. In their second matchup on Feb. 19, Michigan scored 59 points on 37 percent shooting. And finally, on Thursday, the Wolverines ended their season with just 42 points, making only 32 percent of their field goal attempts.