The Michigan women’s basketball team under coach Kevin Borseth usually turns games into a grind-fest, focusing on long offensive possessions and defensive stops.
But that’s hard to do when your opponent scores 48 first-half points.
The 11-seed Wolverines had a hard time stopping redshirt junior Whitney Hand and six-seed Oklahoma in the first half of their opening-round matchup on Sunday. Hand scored 10 and pulled down five rebounds in the half to give the Sooners a lead they’d never relinquish en route to an 88-67 victory.
Oklahoma led by as much as 19 early in the second half, but Michigan didn’t let the game get out of hand until the end. Senior guard Carmen Reynolds led the charge, scoring a season-high 20 points by hitting key 3-pointers to keep the Wolverines in the game. Reynolds, who broke the program record for most 3-pointers in a career earlier in the season, added five to her total on Sunday.
“Honestly, I would take back every single one of those threes if we would’ve got the (win) today,” Reynolds said.
She wasn’t ready for her career to end, and neither was senior guard Courtney Boylan.
Boylan added 12 points on 6-of-14 shooting and kept the team under control when things may have seemed to get out of hand. But the senior guards’ efforts weren’t enough.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” Boylan said. “It was really nice that we were able to make it to the NCAA Tournament and have the opportunity to play such a good team in Oklahoma. But it stings a little bit because it’s our last game in a Michigan uniform.
“It’s obviously hard to swallow.”
Two other Wolverines tallied double digits as well. Junior guard Kate Thompson and junior forward Sam Arnold added 15 and 11 off the bench, respectively, on 9-of-21 shooting.
But Oklahoma’s shooting was even better. The Sooners drained a majority of their shots and were shooting 61 percent at one point in the second half.
Sophomore Aaryn Ellenberg led the charge for Oklahoma, scoring 28 points — 21 of which came in the second half — and the four other Sooner starters broke into double digits as well. Hand finished with 13 and sophomore Morgan Hook added 12 to Oklahoma’s 88 points — the most let up by the Wolverines all season.
Michigan’s defense is one of the best in the Big Ten and has done a good job shutting down some of the better post players in the conference. But they struggled Sunday night with the taller, more physical Sooner bigs.
Rebounds all but sealed the deal for Oklahoma. The Wolverines were out-rebounded, 39-30, and offensive rebounds helped the Sooners dominate the paint. Oklahoma scored 23 second-chance points, as Michigan just couldn’t stop Hand and center Nicole Griffin.
Borseth pulled junior center Rachel Sheffer early and often in favor of the taller, stronger junior center Sam Arnold, who he believed did a better job defensively against Hand and Griffin in the paint.
But once things turned in favor of the Wolverines in the post — Michigan outscored the Sooners in the paint, 32-28 — Oklahoma just started to hit shots from longer-range. And that’s where Ellenberg stepped in.
“(Aaryn Ellenberg) is a phenomenal player,” Boylan said. “She can stroke it, she can shoot it, and she can drive it. She can do everything. We tried our best to defend her and stop her as best as we could, but sometimes she got away from us. She was feeling it tonight.”
But despite the outcome, both Boylan and Reynolds will remember the foundation they helped build for future Wolverine squads.
“It was great to be a part of it, turning the program around like we did, making it to the big dance our senior season,” Reynolds said. “(Courtney and I) feel amazing about that. That we were able to turn it around, thanks to the coach and the coaching staff that came in and the players coming in. It has been a great, great time and I am just happy to be a part of the tradition and the family that we have created here.”