As 16th-century English wordsmith John Heywood said, “Rome
wasn’t built in one day.”
Neither is a contending Big Ten women’s basketball
At the midway point of the season, the Michigan lady ballers
rest slightly above .500.
Offensive productivity has been inconsistent, and so have
Jennifer Smith, Tabitha Pool and Stephanie Gandy account for
more than 70 percent of the team’s offense. Michigan’s
fourth scoring option, Niki Reams, averages just 5.9 points per
“I take it as a positive in terms of we’re really
trying to give a lot of touches to who we think are potentially our
better scorers,” coach Cheryl Burnett said.
Michigan ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 16
points per game less than league-leading Minnesota — which
held the Wolverines to a season-low 44 points on New Year’s
One of the brighter spots offensively for the Wolverines has
been Smith, who ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring with 21.4
points per game. Lately, teams have figured out how to contain the
6-foot-4 center, holding her to an average of 14.8 points during
the past four games.
“With Jen being so successful early, of course, every
coach and their scouting report is going to do everything they can
to take that strength away from us,” Burnett said.
Smith has been a pillar of consistency for the Wolverines this
season. In her lone off-night against Xavier, teammate Tabitha Pool
filled in adamantly with a career-high 33 points, but no other
Wolverine scored more than seven.
In 15 games, two or more players have scored more than 20 points
just three times.
One reason for the team’s inconsistency could be the
game-by-game changes to the starting lineup, a strategy Burnett
uses to motivate her team in practice. Burnett has mix-matched the
lineup throughout the season, with the longest stretch of the same
five starters lasting just three games. The players that work the
hardest defensively are most likely the ones who start each
“It’s not always everything that occurs in practice
even though we want the message to be players earn who right by how
they practice,” Burnett said. “To me, whoever starts
the game is not a critical aspect, it’s who ends
While the ladies push themselves during practice, they have been
working overtime during a strenuous non-conference season.
Michigan’s strength of schedule ranks as the 20th-toughest
in the nation, and it has played at least three more games than any
other Big Ten team this season.
“Because of the tremendous challenge of our nonconference
schedule and that stretch when we played 10 games in 23 days, we
basically were not getting to work on what we needed to work on (in
practice), but yet we were getting great game experience. We kind
of feel a relief now,” Burnett said. (This is) a renewal of
strength and a renewal of energy that I think is a very big
Michigan played a strong second half in its 62-43 victory at
Northwestern on Sunday, executing much better on the
“intangibles” that Burnett believes are the keys for
improving consistency. They include work ethic, competitiveness and
developing leadership and confidence.
“We have been very inconsistent, but if we can maintain
consistency in those intangible qualities, to me that makes the
difference between a winning team and not a winning team,”
Despite all of their efforts thus far, the Wolverines sit at
They stare a Big Ten season in the face . . . and perhaps a
little more building than expected.