Formulating a game plan against a 2004 NCAA Tournament finalist is tough enough. Add a gigantic, versatile All-American into the mix, and even the best basketball coaches will have nightmares.
“It’s very difficult to strategize a game plan double-teaming in the post when their big player leads the team in assists,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said.
Last night, first team All-American Janel McCarville’s play was like a bad dream come true for the Michigan women’s basketball team (0-6 Big Ten, 4-13 overall). The Wolverines simply couldn’t contain the 6-foot-2 senior, who led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
With No. 12 Minnesota’s best player on top of her game, Michigan just couldn’t keep up. The Golden Gophers (5-1, 15-3) took a double-digit lead less than six minutes into the game and never looked back, cruising to a 73-49 blowout victory at Minnesota’s Williams Arena. The loss extended Michigan’s losing streak to nine in a row.
“We didn’t have a great start,” Burnett said. “You don’t want to start out from behind because Minnesota is a great team. You’ve got to come and bring your best game.”
With the wide-bodied McCarville banging down low, Minnesota asserted its physical dominance from the outset. On its first possession, Minnesota pulled down two consecutive offensive boards, setting up guard Shannon Schonrock for a jumper. After setting the tone early, the Golden Gophers continued to roll all over Michigan, scoring 24 points in the first 10 minutes of the game. With 6:39 to go in the half, Minnesota took a 31-12 lead — its largest of the opening frame.
The Wolverines’ best run soon followed. Freshman Ta’Shia Walker drilled two free throws and senior Tabitha Pool hit her only field goal of the half, cutting the Minnesota lead to 15. After a layup by freshman Krista Clement and a free throw from sophomore Kelly Helvey, Michigan cut the lead to 31-19.
But the Wolverines’ run of seven consecutive points provided only short-lived hope. Going into halftime with a 36-22 lead, the Golden Gophers pulled away as soon as the second half whistle blew. Minnesota scored the first seven points of the period, stretching the game well out of reach.
Although the Wolverines were clearly overmatched down low, they did manage to keep the sharp-shooting Schonrock in check. The 5-foot-6 junior point guard came into the game shooting a red hot 43 percent from beyond the arc, but Helvey’s strong defense prevented Schonrock from making a single trey. Helvey also added a team-high four steals for the Wolverines.
“I was pleased because our team is trying to do the things we are asking them to do,” Burnett said.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ shooting woes prevented any possibility of a comeback. With Minnesota’s defense conspiring to stop Pool — who scored a season-low eight points — the rest of the Wolverines found their share of open looks. But Michigan made only 38.8 percent of its field goals.
“Tonight, we got some good looks, and they didn’t fall,” Burnett said. “But we’re taking the right shots.”
After suffering two straight losses to top-15 opponents, the Wolverines will face less powerful competition Sunday, when they take on Indiana (1-5, 8-8) in Crisler Arena. With the losing streak continuing, the time is ripe for Michigan to take its first step out of the Big Ten cellar. But according to Burnett, the Wolverines won’t change their approach against the Hoosiers.
“We haven’t even talked about Indiana at this point,” Burnett said. “We’ll be glad to be back home. We don’t want to focus on the opposition — we only want to focus on what we’re doing.”