Flash back to Jan. 24.
The Michigan women’s basketball team was riding high at 12-6, tied for second place in the Big Ten. It had already won more conference games than last season. Last Tuesday, they were even sniffing ESPN’s bracketology.
Flash forward to today.
Michigan lost its third straight game, succumbing to Illinois, 66-61, last night. The last trio of games has been nightmarish for the Wolverines.
All three were winnable, with the biggest margin of defeat just five. Each game featured similar problems – the failure to create turnovers, inability to find shots and poor execution in crunch time.
“We’re playing really well in spurts right now,” sophomore center Krista Phillips said. “When it comes to the end of the game, we just lose focus. We’re trying to get there, and we’re trying to get that win. We have to play the last five minutes like we do the first five minutes of every half.”
Against Iowa on Jan. 27, Michigan was down three with 30 seconds remaining. Shockingly, the Wolverines didn’t realize the situation and failed to foul until just one second remained.
In East Lansing on Jan. 31, the Wolverines had an eight-point lead with nearly seven minutes to go. After allowing the Spartans to take the lead with a 10-0 run, Michigan senior Janelle Cooper missed a last-second 3-pointer that could have tied the game.
And last night, in a game that featured 11 ties and 17 lead changes, the Wolverines failed to execute under pressure again. Down 62-61 with 58 seconds left, Michigan was called for a shot clock violation. A layup by Illinois center Jenna Smith, who had a game-high 16 points and 8 rebounds, put Illinois up by three.
The Wolverines called a timeout with 33 seconds left, but didn’t get up a shot for 16 seconds. Two Illinois free throws later, the game was over.
Failing to finish may have its source.
After the game, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said his team has trouble beating teams off the dribble, which has limited the team’s opportunities. And, as the game nears its end, the opposing defense tightens the pressure, making it harder for Michigan to find open jumpers – one reason Michigan has taken 26 fewer shots than its opponent in the last three games.
“We can’t beat people off the dribble,” Borseth said. “Can we get any better at it? We’re trying. We work everyday at dribble penetration, trying to get by people.”
The Wolverines have also struggled to create turnovers. Michigan forced just nine against Iowa and just six against Illinois. Over the past three games, Michigan has committed 17 more turnovers than the opposition.
“We’ve been at the bottom,” Phillips said. “We’re fighting to try and maintain what we got going on right now. We just have to get past this three-game losing streak.”