When junior forward Carly Benson scorched the nets with a trifecta to extend Michigan’s lead to 13 with just over three minutes left in Saturday’s game, the Michigan women’s basketball team started to get comfortable.
A little too comfortable.
Akron caught the Wolverines off guard, responding with a 7-0 run in the next 73 seconds. Michigan rushed through the offense, and the Wolverine defense just couldn’t close the Zips out in the final five minutes.
But saying that is an understatement.
“(Akron) went down the middle every, every, every, every, every, every time,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “Every time. Every time our defense broke down. Let me repeat myself – every time. Every time the defense broke down. Every time they went right down the guts, right where we didn’t want them to go.”
On two instances, an Akron player dribbled from the corner around the Wolverine defense and scored a lay-up on the opposite side of the basket. After the game, Borseth had trouble pinpointing the reason for Michigan’s last-minute woes.
“I don’t know whether or not something from last year carried over, and they weren’t supposed to help that,” Borseth said. “I don’t know that. I sense that was part of it because we just let it go. We just didn’t even address it. Do you know how frustrating that is? It’s frustrating for me, it’s frustrating for them, it’s frustrating that you have to watch it.”
Senior Ta’Shia Walker didn’t find the game as frustrating as Borseth, mentioning that every team has runs. The Wolverines closed on an 8-2 response of their own.
“I thought we played really well, but I can understand what coach is talking about because in practice, we do things a certain way,” Walker said. “But I think it’s an adjustment period, and we’re going to be fine as the year rolls around.”
Finding Their Rhythm: Just like its exhibition against Lake Superior State, Michigan had trouble starting strong.
The Wolverines struggled to put their offense in motion and seemed one step slower on the rebounding end. Only in the second half did the wheels start turning for Michigan.
After some adjustments at the half, Michigan finally controlled the pace of the game.
“That’s all first-game jitters,” forward Stephany Skrba said. “Everybody’s moving at a faster speed or slower speed, and after halftime, we all kind of relaxed, and that’s where all the smoothness came in.”
With Borseth reminding the Wolverines of their perfect practice, they moved the ball much better, opening up better shots in the second frame. Now, they have to execute from downtown.
Even though Michigan shot 42.9 percent from the field, it shot just five-for-22 from behind the arc.
“You have to be able to make threes and layups,” Borseth said.
Putting Philosophies Together: Looking at the final box score, Borseth immediately pointed to the Wolverines’ dismal assist-to-turnover ratio. With just eight assists and 19 turnovers, the first-year coach acknowledged it was the first stat-line of its kind he’s seen in 20 years.
“Our passes were pretty hesitant,” Borseth said. “They were just so conscious of not trying to throw it away that they threw it away. I just think that we didn’t play confidently.”
Many of Michigan’s struggles can be fixed by stressing the importance of confidence in practice, Borseth said. Walker admits that grasping this concept is just as hard as the physical philosophies the Wolverines are learning.
But facing Akron’s final surge, Michigan took another mindset.
“Everybody had their heads up and was like, ‘We’ve got to win this game. We have to win this game,’ ” Walker said. “That was a huge improvement from last year. We want to play to win and not to play not to lose.”