Facing two of the nation’s top-25 teams in just four days, the Michigan women’s basketball team was as good as shark bait.
“Well, I kind of feel like a wounded fish in shark-infested waters,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “People are coming after us. People are just saying, ‘You know what, (the Wolverines) are a piece of cake. We’re just going to come after them and just bury them.’ “
The latest grave was dug Sunday as No. 22 Notre Dame drowned the Wolverines, 77-46, in front of 10,825 at an electric Joyce Center.
But it wasn’t a blowout from the get-go. Michigan treaded alongside the Irish for the opening minutes thanks to senior Janelle Cooper. She put up five of her 11 points in the Wolverines’ first three possessions of the game. But Notre Dame’s full-court press was too much for Michigan, converting turnovers into easy transition buckets all afternoon long. The Wolverines’ 22 turnovers translated into 22 points for the Irish.
Even when Michigan got the ball past the timeline, the offense was often limited to the perimeter. Notre Dame’s constant switching between zone and man-to-man defense prevented the Wolverines from getting the ball inside the paint. Post players Ta’Shia Walker and Krista Phillips combined for just three field goals, including two easy put-backs.
“It was something new they threw at us,” junior Jessica Minnfield said. “At first, we had a couple problems with it. Then we slowed down, started passing the ball more, attacking them and taking it up the court.”
But once the Wolverines figured out how to play the Notre Dame defense, it was too late. Just 10 minutes into the contest, the Fighting Irish had already extended their lead to 14. The Wolverines finished the first half with 15 turnovers and just three assists.
The second half started with some optimism for the Maize and Blue. With a strong defensive stop on Notre Dame’s first possession, Michigan seemed to break its habit of starting slow. But turnovers and poor shot selection again doomed the Wolverines, and led to an Irish 16-0 run in the next four minutes.
“We just need to start a little faster,” Borseth said. “We actually started OK for the most part, but we didn’t get a whole lot of shots in rhythm. We seem to be running into each other.”
Throughout the game, Notre Dame appeared to be scoring at will. Four Fighting Irish players finished in double figures, including guards Tulyah Gaines and Charel Allen, who went a combined 14-for-18 from the field. The second-half Irish run was highlighted by junior Lindsay Schrader’s behind-the-back pass to Gaines for a fast break layup.
As much as the Fighting Irish outplayed them, the Wolverines also bit their own tails. Not only did Michigan shoot 27.3 percent for the game, it had trouble just being on the same page.
“We had people in the wrong spot,” Borseth said. “That’s the problem. I’ve got one kid who’s running a man offense and the others in a zone offense, and there’s a disconnection there. That’s why you have to have five of them who can figure it out and insert the other ones slowly.”
By the end of the contest, Michigan showed its potential. Although Notre Dame (6-1) put out its bench players, the Wolverines controlled the final 10 minutes by starting to make shots and drawing trips to the free-throw line, making 12-of-14 foul shots in the second half.
After starting the season 4-1, Michigan (4-3) has received a harsh dose of reality.
“We’re trying to find an identity right now,” Borseth said. “It’s tough for these guys to have to play for new coaches. These guys are trying hard. We’re in the process of growing together, and we’re gonna. We’re gonna stick with these kids and figure it out. When we do, good things will happen.”