Inevitably, just when something suddenly begins to improve, something else slowly finds itself deteriorating with no means of recovery in sight.
Despite past problems guarding outside shooters, Michigan (0-9 Big Ten, 6-15 Overall) finally stepped up its performance along the perimeter, making it nearly impossible for Wisconsin (2-7, 8-13) to penetrate and drive to the basket. But at the same time, the Wolverines found themselves without a post presence. Constantly coming up short, they were unable to pull down 20 defensive rebounds. As a result, Michigan gave the Badgers enough second-chance opportunities to make up for their struggling post play and earn the 75-65 victory.
“We wanted to come out and have our defense make a very specific difference in the game,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “When we play hard and pressure the ball, we get out in the passing lanes, and we were very effort-driven.”
With no savior in sight, the Wolverines’ woes in the post continued. They constantly failed to crash the boards and box out, allowing Wisconsin to grab 18 offensive rebounds. The Badgers’ fast-paced offense forced Michigan to rotate and pick up Wisconsin’s dribble-penetration and basket-cutters. Michigan stopped the Badgers along the perimeter, but in the process, left the entire post area open. Wisconsin didn’t hesitate to capitalize on that open court – shooting the majority of its second-chance shots from the paint.
“A lot of times it’s hard to get back and find your own player,” sophomore forward Katie Dierdorf said. “They were taking a lot of short shots, and with those, it’s just hard to go back and box out. We just have to pay more attention to where our girl is and then go and box out.”
More often than not, Michigan found itself out of position when Wisconsin launched up a shot, leaving it unable to beat the Badgers to the boards. After shifting over to cover the perimeter and fill the passing lanes, Michigan’s post players found themselves away from the basket and on the outside end of a boxing-out Badger.
Early in the second half, the Wisconsin forwards made their presence felt, twice scooping up four consecutive offensive rebounds. Despite playing for more than 20 minutes, sophomore Janelle Cooper couldn’t contribute on the boards as much as usual, grabbing just one rebound. Most of the time she was in the game, Cooper was forced to lend her defensive expertise to secure the perimeter. In addition, Stephany Skrba’s team-high nine rebounds weren’t enough to give the Wolverines a presence down low. Skrba couldn’t come out from the post to help the weak-side defenders.
“In the rebounding part, Cooper makes such a difference,” Burnett said. “Not only in numbers, but she gets so many hustle things at the rebounding end. And Skrba is such a force rebounding wise, that it is almost as if we have to have both of those players in for us to be a great rebounding team.”
Along the perimeter, Cooper, freshman Melinda Queen and sophomore Krista Clement rotated around, closing up open lanes and forcing Wisconsin to put the ball on the floor in order to create shot opportunities. In the process, Michigan forced the Badgers into committing an above-average 23 turnovers.
“I just think (the way we played defense) gives us the confidence that we can get out and deny every pass and help a lot on drives,” Dierdorf said. “From this, we just gained a lot of confidence, and we will continue to go forward with our defense.”