That’s how close the Michigan women’s basketball has been to winning five extra games this season.
But clutch teams have to knock down big shots when they’re needed most. And so far this year, Michigan hasn’t done that.
With the exception of a last second win at Wisconsin, Michigan hasn’t played well at the end of games. The one shot that is needed isn’t usually a buzzer beater.
The problem is that Michigan lacks consistency down the stretch and a go-to shooter for key situations. The Wolverines lost tight contests to Purdue when they couldn’t make late baskets to cement the game. They fell to Michigan State when they threw away an eight point lead in the waning minutes. And they lost to Illinois when they had two final chances to make a shot and win.
“If we make one shot in those five games we win,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We just need to make a shot, a lot of times just one shot down the stretch, but it’s a big shot.”
That has to change tonight, when the Wolverines tip off against Penn State for the second time this season. Penn State picked up some signature wins against No. 10 Duke and No. 20 Pittsburgh in the middle of non-conference play.
In a 68-57 win over Michigan on January 20, the Lady Lions did an effective job scoring with their explosive transition offense. Penn State had four players reach double digits in scoring.
“They had a lot of (baskets) in transition,” Borseth said. “It’s very much a part of their game, they’re a very aggressive team at both ends of the court, we’ll have to play well.”
The Wolverines need to focus on Lady Lion guards Tyra Grant and Brianne O’Rourke, who manage Penn State’s transition offense and dominated Michigan down the stretch last game, scoring 26 combined points.
The biggest advantage for the Wolverines is their biggest player. At 6-foot-6, center Krista Phillips towers over the Penn State starters. However, the Lady Lions shut her down by bringing 6-foot-3 center Janessa Wolff off the bench to frustrate Phillips and get her into foul trouble.
Phillips cannot pick up early fouls, or else Penn State will focus its defense on the perimeter, frustrating Michigan all night.
“(It takes) a combination of making big stops, and getting key rebounds when we have to,” Borseth said about winning tight games. “Then, getting a good shot and making it, and if we get a call from the ref once in awhile that would help too.”
The biggest question remaining: Can the Wolverines regain their poise and finish the season strong?
Only then will the Wolverines see if they can make the one shot that gets them over the top.