Fresh off snapping its 28-game Big Ten losing streak, the Michigan women’s basketball team looked poised to win another after junior Ta’Shia Walker sunk an easy lay-up to put the Wolverines up by six.
Unfortunately for Michigan, there were still four minutes left on the clock.
Shooting a dismal 25 percent in the second half, Wisconsin somehow stormed back in the game’s waning minutes, eking out a 62-59 win in Crisler Arena last night.
But the Wolverines had to fight just to have a chance.
After a 15-0 Badger run in the middle of the first half, it looked like the sparse Michigan fanbase was going to witness another Big Ten blowout.
Down 25-12 midway through the first half, the Wolverines were faced with a tough challenge. The Michigan defense had looked confused during Wisconsin’s run, but it soon tightened up. The Wolverines didn’t allow a single field goal in the next eight minutes.
“We fought back, didn’t we?” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said emphatically when asked about the strong end to the half. “I really thought we were getting a lot of good hustle plays during that stretch.”
The Wolverines dove after loose balls, boxed out and played aggressively, and they slowly but surely clawed back into the game.
By the end of the half, Michigan was down just six points.
Showing more aggression than before, freshman Krista Phillips was the key to the Wolverines’ gutsy comeback. Her presence both on the inside and outside gave Wisconsin troubles on both sides of the court.
Phillips, who went stronger to the basket than usual, shot 5-for-8 from the field. She even displayed some range, hitting her second 3-pointer of the season.
Even though Phillips made a large impact, early foul trouble forced Burnett to sit the freshman for most of the second half before she fouled out with just under two minutes left in the game.
“It didn’t even come down to that fifth foul,” Phillips said. “It came down to the ones early in the game, where I just made stupid decisions. That fifth one, it didn’t really have much effect. It was the ones that I had early in the game that I really paid for.”
Without Phillips, Michigan struggled to find a strong post presence, especially on the offensive side of the court. The offense, however, didn’t miss a beat. The Wolverines found other ways to score, including aggressive drives to the basket and solid perimeter shooting.
Michigan’s offense continued to play well in Phillips’s absence, and the Wolverine defense put Michigan in a position to complete the comeback in the second half.
The Badgers had season lows in field goals attempted and made, allowing the Wolverines to build a six-point lead late in the second half.
But it wasn’t Michigan taking free throws at the end of the game, attempting to fend off a Wisconsin comeback. The Badgers (2-2 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) took on the role of the aggressor, drawing a myriad of fouls down the stretch, and they had no problem hitting the freebies under pressure.
“We had a six-point lead for a while but we just fell apart mentally and made crucial mistakes,” said freshman Kalyn McPherson, who made her second start.
With time running out, Michigan (1-4, 8-10) lost its rhythm on offense. Less than two seconds left remained when senior Kelly Helvey threw an inbounds pass into the belly of a Wisconsin player, ending the night.
“I think that the struggle in the last possessions was that we’d become a little tentative offensively,” Burnett said. “Until our players gain the confidence in what we’re trying to execute, and once we gain the confidence of wanting to get the ball in our hands (we’ll still be tentative).”