INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not smart to go on an 9-minute scoring drought if you want to win a game.
It doesn’t help when just a free throw kept you on the board in that stretch.
And it’s not any better that it was the Michigan women’s basketball team’s defense that held you scoreless from the field in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
But that’s what Thursday’s 68-53 loss was like for Illinois, who shot just 21 percent from the field in the first half.
Junior guards Kate Thompson and Jenny Ryan led Michigan’s defensive effort in the first stanza with two steals apiece, and senior guard Carmen Reynolds helped limit the Fighting Illini’s second-chance efforts with three rebounds.
Midway through the first half, Thompson picked off a pass and hits a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession. Then, as the Wolverines pressed the Illinois inbounds pass, Thompson grabbed an errant pass and laid it in.
Five straight points for Michigan, all off of Thompson’s defensive efforts.
The staunch defense isn’t a new facet of the Wolverines’ game plan. Michigan is second in the conference in scoring defense, holding opponents to 58 points per game. On Thursday, Illinois was held to 53 points.
They also force an average of 17 turnovers per game — a figure that leads the Big Ten — and forced the Fighting Illini to cough the ball up 11 times in the first half on Thursday.
“I think a lot of (the defensive effort) came when we came out with a lot of energy,” Ryan said. “Everybody, one through five, gave everything they had, both mentally and physically. When people do that, it makes life easy.”
While the defense was hounding Illinois, the Wolverines’ offense was producing on the other end. Michigan scored 12 points off of the 11 first-half turnovers and shot 42 percent from the floor in that stanza.
Michigan coach Kevin Borseth knew that a good effort in the first half was key to a win.
“Our kids came out ready to play from the start,” Borseth said. “I think the first half for us set the tone and everything else followed.”
The second half wasn’t much different. Though Illinois’ shooting improved — it shot 40 percent from the field in the second half — Michigan’s defense helped its offense stay productive. The Wolverines picked the ball off nine more times in the second half and put up 15 more points. Michigan ended up with 26 points off of the 20 Fighting Illini turnovers for the game.
But one area where the Wolverines’ defense faltered was on the boards. Michigan has typically struggled rebounding and Thursday afternoon was no different. Illinois pulled down 40 rebounds — 23 of which were offensive — while the Wolverines snagged just 30.
The Fighting Illini had multiple second- and third-chance opportunities to score due to a great offensive rebounding effort by junior Karisma Penn. Penn grabbed eight offensive boards, but saw limited action — she was in foul trouble for most of the game.
Borseth credits Penn and junior Adrienne GodBold for their efforts on the glass, noting that it’s tough to try to contain the duo on the boards.
“It’s kind of frustrating (to get out-rebounded), but credit to them,” Sheffer said. “They crashed the boards really hard — that’s what kept them in the game. They scored most of their points on offensive rebounds, second and third tries. We just know we have to step it up for tomorrow.”
Michigan plays second-seeded Ohio State on Friday at 11:30 a.m. looking for its fourth-straight win against the Buckeyes.