It was an unflattering end to an unflattering season. No. 12 Purdue handily finished off the Michigan women’s basketball team, 72-50, in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Friday.
There is no shame in losing to Purdue – a team that could walk away with the Big Ten title tonight in Indianapolis and can certainly look forward to more success in the NCAA Tournament – but shame may have been the prevailing feeling among Michigan players, coaches, fans and media.
The Michigan family wasn’t ashamed that Michigan couldn’t topple the mighty Boilermakers. It was ashamed because any chance that the Wolverines had of redeeming themselves this season had ended, along with one of the darkest chapters in the program’s history.
“It’s disappointing. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “I certainly didn’t see this, and it’s not something that I want to experience again.”
The 2002-03 basketball season was a failure in one aspect or another. Not one member of Michigan would say otherwise. Someone may try and spin some of the positives that came from it, but the fact remains that this team came nowhere close to reaching the goals set for itself at the outset of the season.
But that’s a fact that everyone knows, so why continue to pound it down everyone’s throat? There’s no way to figure out why this team imploded, otherwise Guevara would have fixed it ages ago.
Guevara said herself after the team’s 67-38 loss to Northwestern that a lesson should be learned after every loss, and rest assured, Michigan will learn those lessons and pick up the pieces next year, because there’s nothing else to do.
For starters, this team will grow up. The Wolverines were composed of five freshmen this year, two of whom started much of the season. But while the quantity of play may have been consistent, the quality of play was not.
Guevara echoed this observation following Friday’s game. It was obvious to everyone that the team that had shocked Illinois 83-59 on Thursday was not the same a day later.
“It was what’s been haunting us all season,” Guevara said. “It was just the inconsistency from one game to the next.”
Experience breeds consistency, but it also spawns another attribute that may have been sorely missed on this year’s team – leadership.
Senior co-captains LeeAnn Bies and Raina Goodlow will ride into the sunset following a season that treated neither of them very kindly. Bies was demoted to the bench at the start of the Big Ten season, and Goodlow only averaged 14.8 minutes per game all year. It begs the question, how effective a leader can you be if you’re not given the opportunity to lead?
By the end of the season, junior Jennifer Smith had become the most consistent performer and a model for the young players to follow. Guevara alluded to the fact last week when asked about how the freshmen would handle their first collegiate postseason. Instead of crediting the seniors, Guevara said it would help the youngsters by watching how Smith handled herself.
Her fellow senior captain next season will likely be Stephanie Gandy, normally the most vocal and emotional Wolverine on the court, and also the team leader in minutes played.
Even if those two don’t live up to expectations, Michigan should have no problem investing some trust into freshman Rachael Carney. She has received nothing but praise from players and coaches since she took over the starting point guard role.
This season was more than just turnovers and poor shooting. The problems Michigan experienced ran deeper than the hole it sat in at the bottom of the Big Ten, but there’s still a chance to correct them. The tools are there.
There’s no need to pull the plug on this team just yet. The program may have looked terminally ill after a handful of losses, but if you check, it still has a faint pulse.