CHAMPAIGN Three of the Wolverines abandoned their team yesterday in Michigan”s 92-78 loss to Illinois. The letdown was not because they missed a shot, or did not rotate defensively. Instead, the players violated unspecified team rules, which led to a one-game suspension.
Offensive threats Tabitha Pool and Stephanie Gandy were benched along with post presence Katrina Mason for the game against the Fighting Illini. Despite this lack of firepower, the Wolverines were able to generate offense throughout the game. The plan was simple, as Michigan stuck to what it has done all season.
“We were trying to get the ball inside,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “When you have someone like (LeeAnn) Bies and someone like (Jennifer Smith), you know our bread and better is the high-low.”
With its roster depleted due to injury and suspension, Michigan”s upperclassmen responded in star fashion. In one of her best outings of the year, Bies notched 17 points and four rebounds in the first half alone. Bies and Alayne Ingram accounted for 30 of the Wolverines 41 points in the first half and combined for 58 points overall.
Bies dominated the game in the way Michigan fans have come to expect. The junior center proved once again why she was a preseason All-Big Ten selection, as she poured in a career-high 36 points and pulled down nine rebounds in the game.
Bies set another career mark as she recorded her 1,000th point as a Wolverine. Her 1,009 points put her 14th in all-time scoring at Michigan.
“I did a lot of things well, but I tend to focus on the things I need to improve on,” Bies said about her performance.
There was not much she could have improved upon yesterday, as she dominated the game from start to finish. Ingram converted on six of her eight attempts in the first half and was perfect from inside the arc. Bies also had a hot hand as she connected on 7-of-12 shots from the floor in the first half.
With Michigan”s depleted bench, the Illini pressed for much of the game, forcing the Wolverines into eight first-half turnovers.
But when Michigan was able to break the press, its post players found good looks at the basket.
“Illinois had too much and we had too little. It would have been nice to give our kids a little rest and a little fresher legs,” Guevara said.
The Illinois press allowed Michigan to score easily, but it also turned the game into a shootout. Both teams were clicking on offense throughout the game with the edge going to the Illini and their superior 3-point shooting. In the first half alone, the Illini connected on seven 3-pointers and shot a blistering 54 percent from behind the arc.
Unfortunately, Michigan brought this on itself, as the game plan was to force the usually poor 3-point-shooting Illini into taking outside shots.
“We were going to try to force them to hit the 3-point shot they hit it,” Guevara said.
The press also had an effect on Michigan”s fatigue level. With just seven players in uniform for the game, Guevara had limited substitution abilities.
Ingram and Heather Oesterle played the entire 40 minutes of the game and all five starters played more than 35 minutes. The excessive time the Michigan starters spent on the floor led to defensive letdowns and a weary offense.
“They kept on bringing new players in every two minutes, pressing us and I think it wore on us,” Oesterle said.