Two players who would’ve seemed like big contributors for the Wolverines yesterday didn’t log many minutes.
Michigan center Krista Phillips was a dominating presence at the beginning of yesterday’s game. In the first eight minutes of play, she scored three points, grabbed six rebounds (two offensive), blocked a shot and recorded a steal. Although Phillips shot just 1-of-4, she got inside and took quality shots.
But after missing consecutive layups, Phillips committed a frustration foul on the rebounder, the Penn State’s Kamela Gissendanner. It was Phillips’s third foul, and she sat for the rest of the half. But the Wolverines didn’t miss a beat, and outscoring Penn State 19-14 until the break.
“I know (junior) Ta’Shia (Walker) is going to go in there and do a great job on the offensive end,” senior forward Kelly Helvey said. “And she did a really great job in post defense. And Carly played a heck of a game as well. If one goes down, we’ve got an army on the bench.”
Phillips started the second half and scored in the post for Michigan’s first points of the period. But on the next Wolverine possession, she picked up an offensive foul and sat the rest of the half, save for a 30-second stint with just more than five minutes to go.
But even in that limited action, she made her presence felt, getting a steal and hitting a free throw after being fouled while getting an offensive rebound.
Junior guard Janelle Cooper, who didn’t start for the first time in 40 games, played even less than Phillips’s 11 minutes. Michigan’s leading scorer played just two minutes in the middle of the second half, missed her only shot (a 3-pointer) and traveled while trying to catch a fast-break pass from Helvey.
Gritty: Sophomore forward Carly Benson didn’t have her best shooting outing; she was just 3-for-13 from the floor and 1-for-5 on 3-pointers. But she still turned in a positive performance.
Benson led the team in minutes (38) and rebounds (nine) and was a big factor on the defensive end.
“I thought Carly Benson gutted her way though a whole lot of minutes,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “She played a tremendous what we call a ‘help-side’ ball game. If anybody was dribble penetrating the rim or any post was catching, Carly was there. She was guarding the paint for us, regardless of what was going on.”
In the later stages of the first half, sophomore forward Melinda Queen was an active body and seemed to be playing faster than the rest of the players on the court.
With 2:38 remaining, Queen converted an old-fashioned 3-point play, putting in a Michigan miss.
On the next Wolverine possession, she ran in untouched to cleanly lay back in another Michigan miss.
Six seconds later, she took a charge on the defensive end.
“I always like to call Melinda a hustler,” Walker said. “But Melinda, hey, that’s her game, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that she had all those great plays because that’s her game. She’s the best at it. That’s why she was recruited here.”
Queen even took care of the small stuff while not in action on the court. During a stoppage with 22 seconds remaining in the half, she was out in the middle of the court wiping up a spot of blood.
Hard knocks: The victory came against a traditional women’s basketball power that has fallen on tough times. Last season, Penn State had a losing record, its first since 1973 and just its third in program history. Sitting at 8-9, the fourth could be on its way this year.
Until last season, the Lady Lions had made seven straight NCAA tournaments, including the Final Four in 2000.
Michigan had not beaten Penn State since 2001.
And the Lady Lions have had trouble off the court, too.
Starting guard Adrienne Squire left the team just more than a week ago. She had been averaging almost 12 points per game.
Penn State has also faced continuing controversy about coach Rene Portland allegedly discriminating against a former player on the basis of sexual orientation and race.