EAST LANSING — After achieving something it had not done in over 10 years – gaining entry into the Associated Press Top-25 poll – the Michigan women’s basketball team attempted to do something else it hadn’t done in over a decade – beat Michigan State in East Lansing.
With both teams wearing jerseys highlighted with pink to support the fight against breast cancer, the Wolverines (5-4 Big Ten, 16-6 overall) took the court on Monday, aiming to do an additional thing they haven’t accomplished in over five years – beat the Spartans (6-3, 18-4) in any capacity. Both were not to be, as Michigan lost, 61-46.
In a see-saw first half, both teams went back and forth, putting on a display of defensive prowess.
“It was a tough game early,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It was a competitive game early and then they made that run at the end of the first half and the start of the second half, which really opened up the game and we weren’t able to come back from it.”
With both teams playing stingy defense, the Wolverines finished 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. Forced to adjust, Michigan relied on its two senior forwards and leading rebounders, Rachel Sheffer and Nya Jordan, to carry the team.
The duo combined for 14 points and nine rebounds in the first half, but with the rest of the team struggling from the field – shooting just 4-for-15 – Michigan found itself down seven at the half after Michigan State went into the locker room on a 15-4 run. Jordan finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Sheffer added 12 points and five rebounds.
“At the end of the first half, the last four minutes, I thought they were able to drive (on us),” Barnes Arico said. “They rebounded the ball pretty well too and gave themselves a lot of second-chance opportunities.”
Led by forward Klarissa Bell’s seven first-half points, along with five points each by forwards Annalise Pickrel and Becca Mills off the bench, the Spartans shot 45 percent from the field. They also committed just three turnovers, compared to the Wolverines’ eight. Mills would finish the game with a team-leading 12 points.
With the entire lower bowl of the Breslin Center filled with Michigan State supporters dressed in its traditional green and special pink gear, the Spartans continued their hot streak into the second half, scoring the first nine points of the stanza.
Michigan was able to get good looks down low for Sheffer, but nothing was falling for the Wolverines as they fell behind by 16 points. Barnes Arico called a timeout after a 3-pointer by guard Kiana Johnson at the 17-minute mark in an effort to stop the Spartans’ run.
It was finally after the timeout that Michigan got its first basket of the half off an offensive rebound and put back by Jordan, but that was quickly answered with a Michigan State basket.
“They wore us down in the second half,” Barnes Arico said. “They were very physical. We couldn’t get anything going offensively. They did a great job on us. Even when we tried to make some runs, they were able to stop the runs and come away with the victory.”
Such was the case for the Wolverines in the game, and especially the second half, as they finally knocked down their first 3-pointer of the game with 15:09 remaining. After the made shot by senior forward Sam Arnold, the Spartans answered with a 3-pointer of their own by guard Jasmine Thomas. Three other Spartans also finished with nine points.
With the lead hovering in the double digits, Barnes Arico inserted rarely used sophomore forward Cyesha Goree into the game with 12:21 remaining in an attempt to spark a clearly deflated Michigan team.
It wasn’t enough though. Despite managing to chop the lead down to 12, it was ultimately Michigan’s poor end to the first half and beginning to the second that doomed the Wolverines. Shooting 32.1 percent from the field for the game factored in as well.
“(The loss) was due in part to their defense but we’ve got to be able to make plays and make shots better than that to be successful in this league,” Barnes Arico said.