On most nights, even when the Wolverines win, the opposition attempts more shots than the Michigan women’s basketball team.
But for just the seventh time this season, the Wolverines outshot Southern Mississippi by two last night in a 59-45 win at Crisler Arena.
And Michigan coach Kevin Borseth couldn’t have been more relieved.
“That’s a milestone,” Borseth joked.
But while the Wolverines lifted more shots, they didn’t perform as well as they intended in the first half of their third round WNIT contest.
Michigan took 13 of its 26 first-half shots from behind the arc and connected on just three. And with 12 minutes remaining in the period, Michigan was in a midst of a seven-minute scoring drought.
Building a 13-point eight minutes after the first whistle, Michigan lost that initial rhythm and settled for one-and-done opportunities for the remainder of the half. And even if those opportunities were open, the Wolverines couldn’t connect. Junior Carly Benson, who went 1-for-10 for the night, hesitated on an open triple and clanked it off the rim.
“Honestly, at halftime, we spent forever trying to figure out something we can do because there was just nothing that we hit,” Borseth said.
And while Borseth isn’t sure if they figured something out, Michigan’s patience and resolve to go inside allowed Michigan to cruise to victory.
After junior Ashley Jones drove to the basket for to retain the lead just over five minutes into the second half, the Wolverines looked more on the interior, going 7-for-14 in the paint. It was those looks that opened up three-point shooting, going a more efficient 3-for-6.
“We were just telling everybody to keep shooting the ball and try and get the ball more and more on the blocks because lay-ups end up giving us more confidence,” senior Janelle Cooper said. “And we can end up making our shots from the outside.”
Earning The Freebies: In the first half, the Wolverines recorded just two free throws.
Opting for jump shots and transition lay-ins for the first half of the game, Michigan changed course five minutes into the second stanza when Jones drove hard to the basket for the three-point play. The strong move set the Wolverine tone for the rest of the game.
“We needed to take that ball aggressively to the hole,” Borseth said. “And after watching 25 minutes of nobody taking at the ball aggressively, AJ took it and knew exactly what I was talking about. She just took it, turned, scored, and got fouled.”
Michigan went 11-for-18 on free throws in the second half, the most free throw attempts it has recorded in a half in more than two months.
And while the Wolverines continually made trips to the line, they prevented Southern Mississippi from getting there.
With disciplined defense from sophomore Krista Phillips and junior Stephany Skrba forcing inside turnovers and bad takes, Michigan allowed just one free throw for the entire contest.
“We just kept them in check,” Borseth said. “Just try to keep them away from that basket and did a pretty good job, especially down in the low post to keeping them out of there.”
In-State Rivalry Part III: With the win, Michigan advances to the fourth round of the WNIT to face Michigan State. The third meeting of the season will take place Sunday at 2 p.m. in East Lansing.
After splitting the season series, the Wolverines will need to find a way to hold off 6-foot-9 Spartan center Alyssa DeHaan, who has hurt them in the past.
The last time Michigan appeared at the Breslin Center, it suffered a late-game collapse as a 10-0 run led the Spartans to a 61-58 win.
But after advancing this far, the Wolverines will look to make up for the game they let away.
“It feels good every time we get another shot,” Cooper said. “We’ll see what happens on Sunday.”
The winner will be the last Big Ten team remaining in postseason play.