Nobody ever said winning had to look good.
But after a first half uglier than Don Imus, it was a relief when the Michigan women’s basketball team pulled away in the second frame for a 54-42 victory over Northwestern yesterday at Crisler Arena.
“I don’t know how pretty that was, but we wanted to win the game, so that was pretty big,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said.
Both teams struggled to find the basket from the opening whistle. The Wolverines took eight shots before getting on the scoreboard. And while the Wildcats held the lead for most of the half, it took them more than 10 minutes to reach double digits.
As frustrating as it is to miss shots, including the easy lay-ins, it’s even more troubling when a majority are smart shots.
“We had good shots in the first half,” Borseth said. “They were all in rhythm. Everything was in rhythm. I don’t know why the ball doesn’t go in the basket when you need it to.”
Despite the early miscues, Michigan was the aggressor on defense. A majority of the Wildcats’ possessions ran down the shot clock without scoring baskets. Borseth was pleased with the Wolverines’ intensity.
“Coach called a timeout and he told us he doesn’t care if we missed just as long as we make stops on the defensive end,” junior Jessica Minnfield said. “And that gave us confidence to keep shooting the ball.”
The Michigan defense eventually allowed the law of averages to play out in the Wolverines’ favor. Toward the end of the first half, Minnfield and junior Carly Benson combined for three triples in a span of 2:20. The Wolverine surge produced their first lead of the game (18-16). They took a two-point advantage into halftime.
Despite putting the Crisler crowd in a bit of a lull, both squads surprisingly shot over 25 percent from the field. And to prove its shots were in rhythm, all eight Michigan field goals had an assist attached to them.
The second stanza again started slowly for the Wolverines, who took about three minutes to produce their first points. But unlike in the first half, Michigan took off, thanks to Wildcat killer Melinda Queen.
Like in last year’s contest against Northwestern, the Oak Forest, Ill. native recorded a career high in points. This time it was 12, one more than last season’s mark. And even more impressive, all came in the second half.
“Maybe it’s an Illinois thing,” Queen said.
Queen was largely responsible for the Wolverines’ domination in the second half. With the Wildcats within six early in the period, Queen orchestrated a 7-2 run to keep the game out of Northwestern’s hands. All her baskets during the run were off the drive. One, in particular, was a swift back-door move for the layup and a foul.
“Queen stepped up big time,” Minnfield said. “She did good. She got confident. She was taking it to the rack, posting up, getting rebounds.”
The Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 9-4 overall), reached their biggest lead (20) with 3:31 to go, but the game was effectively over at 7:50. Following one of Michigan’s 10 steals, a quick outlet to Minnfield led to a fast-break lay-in by senior captain Ta’Shia Walker, pushing the lead to 15.
Meshia Reed led the Wildcats (0-3, 4-11) with a game-high 24 points, including 19 of her team’s 23 in the second half. She was just one of just three scorers for Northwestern. Michigan, on the other hand, had 10 players in the points column.
The Wolverines finished the contest shooting 18-55 from the field. It is the first time in almost a year that Michigan registered a win without making 20 shots in a game. But the Wolverines were lucky to find a team as cold as the Wildcats were. Michigan will need stronger starts to compete with the Big Ten’s best.
“We have to try and get ourselves out of that hole, starting off slow,” Minnfield said. “We’ve had that problem for a couple years now. Hopefully that changes.”