Michigan coach Kevin Borseth, known for his fire on the sidelines, did something out of the ordinary last night.
He sat down.
With four minutes remaining against Purdue, the always-pacing Borseth took a seat between his assistant coaches. Thanks to his team’s stifling defensive effort, Borseth got to watch the final few minutes from the bench as the Wolverines shut down the Boilermakers, 72-36.
It was Michigan’s second biggest margin of victory this season. The Wolverines beat Belmont by 37 on Nov. 25.
“It’s not easy to sit down in these games,” Borseth said. “Every game has just been tooth-and-nail. To be able to sit down in a game like this and kind of enjoy the last couple minutes, it’s relaxing.”
Michigan (8-7 Big Ten, 15-10 overall) set the defensive tone early. Purdue didn’t score for almost the first five minutes and followed that drought with an eight-minute one. Michigan scored 17 points off Purdue’s 12 first-half turnovers to take the advantage.
“We came out to play today,” sophomore center Krista Phillips said. “We were set on winning this game.”
To take down Purdue, who sat two and a half games ahead of Michigan in the conference standings going into last night’s contest, the Wolverines needed to play better than they did in West Lafayette on Jan. 10 when they lost to the Boilermakers, 56-51.
One of Michigan’s goals was to come out more aggressive and attack the basket.
When they last played Purdue (10-6, 14-13), the Wolverines shot just two free throws. Last night, they reached the charity stripe 19 times.
“We felt that we had to get it around the basket more rather than just bombing things up from the arc,” Borseth said. “We really put a focus on trying to play the game around the rim a little bit more.”
Phillips was the key to Michigan’s second-highest scoring output this season. The sophomore, who finished 7-for-12 from the field with eight rebounds, abused Purdue’s weak post defense.
With her back to the basket early in the second half, Phillips faked one way, went the other and gracefully used the backboard to bank in two of her game-high 15 points.
Michigan played its best game of the year last night, but it wasn’t without Purdue’s help. The Boilermakers missed numerous wide-open jumpers and plenty of layups on their way to shooting just 26 percent from the field – the worst shooting performance by a Michigan opponent this season.
“Defensively, we did a great job coming together,” Phillips said. “And when we play good defense, it leads to good offense for us.”
The Wolverines dominated the glass, outrebounding the Boilermakers by 14. Their ability to limit Purdue’s second-chance points was crucial, as Purdue missed several shots in the paint.
“They shoved us under the rim last game,” junior Ashley Jones said. “So, we made an effort to box out and rebound a little bit harder this game.”
With under 10 seconds left, Michigan secured the last of its 45 rebounds and seldom-used senior captain Katie Dierdorf took off down the court. She received a pass and capitalized with a layup. The basket marked the first time all season the Wolverines doubled their opponent’s score.
Michigan now has much-needed momentum heading into its final road game of the year against Illinois on Sunday.
“It’s a really good feeling,” Jones said. “I’ll probably go to sleep with a smile on my face tonight.”