MADISON – Apparently, the Michigan women’s basketball team didn’t get the memo.
In Wisconsin, basketball games last 40 minutes.
Last night was a classic tale of two halves, as the Wolverines folded against the Badgers after halftime, losing 73-60 at the Kohl Center.
From the opening tip, the Wolverines were on the prowl, jumping out to a 14-6 lead before Wisconsin could settle into the game. In those initial minutes, the Michigan’s post play looked smoother than it had all season, with freshman Krista Phillips and sophomore Carly Benson racking up points down low.
The duo accounted for 10 of Michigan’s first 14 points.
Even though the Wolverines has the size to compete in the paint with any Big Ten team, they have struggled all season to find ways to get the ball to their post players. Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett admits her team struggles with post entry passes, but don’t tell that to sophomore Jessica Minnfield. The point guard tallied seven assists in the first half alone, finding Phillips near the basket multiple times.
Wisconsin came out playing much more man-to-man defense than the previous time these two teams faced off. This gave Phillips an opportunity to use her height to score points in the paint.
“I’m really proud of the first half,” Burnett said. “Our kids played really hard. They came out of the gate really confident. . We came in with a very specific gameplan, and I think we did a very good job of having our post help where it needed to help.”
With Michigan’s fast start in the post, the Badgers began to collapse inside on defense. The Wolverines responded with a surprising barrage from long range.
Struggling all year from behind the arc, Michigan lit it up from downtown, scorching the nets on three consecutive possessions.
The Badgers, who had slowly clawed back into the game, had no answer for the flurry of trifectas, and Michigan ran into the tunnel with a four-point lead.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they had to run back out of the locker room for another half.
Picking up where Michigan left off in the first half, Wisconsin launched 3-pointers from the outset, sinking shot after shot.
As the Badgers caught fire, the Wolverines cooled down.
“At halftime we said, ‘We have to come out and play the same way, have the same mindset,’ ” Minnfield said. “We started to slack at the beginning of the second half, so that was the big difference in the game.”
Michigan’s post-passing problems grew as the game wore on. Michigan couldn’t seem to find Phillips down low – she didn’t make a field goal in the second half. And after a stellar passing performance in the first half, Minnfield had just one assist after the break.
Along with the slow start, Wisconsin’s ability to crash the offensive glass took a toll on Michigan.
“Blocking out still plagues us,” Burnett said. “We felt like we blocked out well enough in the first half. In the second half, we’d guard them for 29 seconds, they’d get a contested shot, and then they’d get an offensive rebound. I really think that made the difference.”
Although the slow second-half start effectively ended Michigan’s chances to pull out a win, the team never gave up down the stretch.
Implementing an aggressive press, the Wolverines chipped away the Wisconsin lead built during the early minutes of the second stanza.
Michigan’s solid final minutes could give the Wolverines plenty of momentum going into Sunday’s game against Indiana.
But this loss is still going to hurt for a while.
“We wanted to remember the first game (against Wisconsin),” Burnett said. “We wanted to prove that the end of that game wasn’t the way it should have occurred. We wanted to use that as motivation. . This was a great opportunity for us to come out with a win, but we didn’t.”