As I left Crisler Arena last night, I didn’t know what to say about Michigan’s loss — other than it was the most disappointing of the season. I couldn’t find an overarching theme or a single statistic that could sum up the frustration of the game.
That is, until I placed a call to 1-800-555-TELL — a service that provides callers with sports scores, weather reports, etc. — to hear what it had to say about the Wolverines. And nothing could have come closer to describing the game than the words of that electronic voice.
Michigan was destroyed by Purdue, 63-43.
That statement embodies most of what happened last night. The Wolverines didn’t just lose — they were crushed.
This has happened before. The Wolverines lost their last four games by an average of 22 points. While the first two losses were closer than the final score indicates, the last two weren’t. Against No. 2 Ohio State last week, Michigan was dominated by the Buckeyes in every way possible. Last night was different. Purdue executed perfectly; every pass was crisp, and the Boilermakers got the ball into the hands of their top scorers, Katie Gearlds and Erin Lawless. But the Boilermakers are a slightly above-average Big Ten team against whom Michigan should have been able to hold its own. Not to detract from Purdue’s resounding win, but … it just wasn’t that dominant.
So maybe the electronic voice wasn’t entirely accurate. Purdue didn’t destroy Michigan as much as Michigan destroyed itself.
As hard as they tried, the Wolverines couldn’t seem to do anything right. Unlike the passing clinic Purdue held on its way to 16 assists, Michigan struggled to execute a clean pass all night. It seemed like every time a Wolverine tried to pass the ball, it went to the wrong person or the wrong place. I think more Michigan passes bounced off one of the Boilermakers’ legs than ended up as assists.
Even when the Wolverines did something right, there was a cruel irony to it. Despite struggling on the boards in the second half, the Wolverines maintained a slight 36-35 rebounding advantage for the game. The disappointing part was that Michigan’s point output didn’t surpass its rebounding total until just 4:35 remained in the game. That’s not the way it’s supposed to go.
Beyond the frustration of a 20-point loss to a beatable team, the Wolverines were crushed in a manner that the scoreboard can’t reflect. Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett entered the postgame press conference with tears in her eyes and quickly received a comforting hug from senior BreAnne McPhilamy. Burnett did her best to put her frustration into words but just couldn’t do it. The sadness of yet another lopsided defeat speaks volumes.
And it could have been worse. Tabitha Pool — who has been the team’s everything all year — was injured with just over six minutes remaining in the game. Without Pool, Purdue looked like an all-star team playing against a group of hard-working second-stringers.
The silence that swept over Crisler Arena while Pool was on the floor echoed the understanding that losing Pool is tantamount to losing the season. That is one obstacle the Wolverines simply would not be able to overcome.
Michigan doesn’t seem to have an answer to its problems. I wish it could dial a telephone number and be told exactly what to do to win another game, or, at the very least, learn how to be competitive again. At this point in the season, that might not seem like much.
But I bet the team would just like to leave a game smiling again.
Stephanie Wright can be reached at email@example.com.