WEST LAFAYETTE – The Michigan women’s basketball team expected to see a high-powered offense from Big Ten powerhouse Purdue. A great part of the game hinged on whether the Wolverines could find a way to answer those runs. Michigan is still looking for that answer.
For the second game in a row, Michigan found itself down by double digits early in the first half, taking the team out of its initial game plan for the remainder of the half and, effectively, the remainder of the game.
“We were really looking to push it in transition and get some easy baskets,” Purdue coach Kristy Curry said. “Everyone’s going to make runs throughout the game, but ours need to be longer.”
The Wolverines showed a bit of resilience in the first half, weathering a pair of 9-0 runs and trailing just 36-24 at the half. The 12-point deficit was encouraging after the 25-point hole Michigan had dug itself after the first half of the Illinois game on Jan. 5.
The Boilermakers stomped out any chance of a competitive game, though, opening the second half with two straight hoops. Michigan coach Sue Guevara called a quick timeout to try and settle her players down, but the strategy worked to no avail, as Purdue continued on a 15-4 run, taking the Wolverines down, if not out.
Perhaps the most glaring reason for these differing results rested on an old problem that continues to plague Michigan through conference play. Twenty-two Michigan turnovers resulted in 25 Boilermaker points.
“We came out in the second half and had six turnovers,” senior co-captain LeeAnn Bies said. “We kill ourselves. That will end any run that anyone can put together.”
Yesterday’s matchup was the third-straight in which the Wolverines committed 20 or more turnovers in a game. Sophomore forward Tabitha Pool led the team with five turnovers, followed by junior forwards Stephanie Gandy and Jennifer Smith, and freshman guard Lauren Andrews, all of whom had four.
The recent affinity for losing the ball has forced Guevara to start making drastic changes in her lineups. Freshman guard Rachel Carney made her first career start while Bies came off the bench for the first time this season. Guevara tried everything from a four forward set to smaller lineups in which Bies and Smith barely shared any time on the court at all.
“I’m trying to find that special combination of players that won’t turn the ball over,” Guevara said.
The turnover problem was just one of the many things that took Michigan out of their gameplan, ensuring the final result well before the final buzzer for the third consecutive game.
Michigan only managed to make it to the free-throw line ten times in the game, not nearly enough for the power game they have become accustomed to running with Bies and Smith.
Purdue junior Lindsey Hicks also exploded for 16 points after struggling in her past few games. Her unexpected performance may have resulted from the threat of All-America candidate Shereka Wright, who the Wolverines were keying on most of the game.
Add 11,387 screaming fans in Mackey Arena onto that, and it’s no wonder that Michigan’s offense continued to function in such disarray.
“We actually cut the turnovers down from 30 to 22. So it’s in the right direction, but it’s still way too many,” Bies said. “We’ll just keep running in practice. If you turn it over, you run.”