College basketball is a 40-minute game.
Unfortunately for the Michigan women’s basketball team, it still cannot string together a full game against a formidable opponent. Last night’s 76-61 loss to No. 23 Penn State showed that Michigan is halfway to being able to keep up with some of the best in the Big Ten, after leading at halftime 28-25.
“We just have to put two halves together,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said.
Two minutes into the second half, senior forward Tabitha Pool took an elbow to the head from Penn State sophomore Amanda Brown. It turned out to be a bad omen for the Wolverines. Penn State went on a 21-6 run, taking control of the game and never looking back.
Michigan bottled up senior Tanisha Wright in the first half, but the 5-10 guard netted 17 points in the second frame to finish with 19. During a key 19-4 run, Wright scored 9 points. Penn State’s veteran team put pressure on Michigan (1-9 Big Ten, 5-16 overall) throughout the second half. Almost every time the Wolverines brought the ball up the floor, a Lady Lion was in the face of the Michigan ballhandler. Penn State’s 1-3-1 zone forced many problems for Michigan, causing six of Michigan’s eight second-half turnovers during the 21-6 run. Those turnovers led to layups that padded the Penn State lead.
“They changed defenses a lot,” Burnett said. ‘It was enough to keep us off guard. They run a half-court 1-3-1 zone. We had three wonderful possessions, but then we would have some not so great possessions. Our turnovers made a big difference for them and gave them some easy shots.”
After the fateful elbow incident, Penn State tied the score at 31-31 on a falling layup from senior Jess Strom. With the Michigan defense concentrating on Wright, Strom took advantage of the extra space on her way to 29 points, tying her career-high. While Wright struggled in the first half, Strom carried the Lady Lions, dropping 10 points.
“We played one great half of basketball,” Michigan Cheryl Burnett said. “We did a great job of taking away their No. 1 option, Tanisha Wright. It was great team defense.”
Michigan’s first half included a 16-7 run to take the lead going into halftime. Pool led Michigan with 22 points, including eight in the second half while helping keep Penn State on its heels.
“Our first two shots were 3-pointers, which is not our game,” Penn State coach Rene Portland said. “We are a team that likes to penetrate.”
Michigan held Wright to just 1-for-8 shooting by forcing her to take some ill-advised shots. At times, the Wolverines would rotate up to three players to defend Wright.
“They did a nice job of clogging up the paint (against) Wright,” Portland said. “We knew we were going to be in for a dogfight.”
With Penn State’s best player struggling, freshman forward Ta’Shia Walker spurred the Michigan effort on both ends of the floor, finishing with 10 points in the first half and 14 for the game. But, once again, Michigan could not maintain its intensity in the second half. Once Wright and Strom both got on track, the Wolverines fell behind and could not get within eight. The veteran duo for the Lady Lions never lost confidence — they knew it would just be a matter of time before their shots would fall.
“We went into halftime and said ‘our shots aren’t falling,’ Strom said. “But we said that we knew they would start,”
Even though the Wolverines suffered yet another loss, they do not feel like they are far from breaking through.
“We’re right at the edge,” Walker said. “We just need to find that niche to win. If we can break that little barrier, we will be fine.”