After two games in which it averaged 46 points, one would think that a 60-point showing by the Michigan women’s basketball team would be an outstanding offensive performance. But, for anyone watching last night’s 69-60 loss to Eastern Michigan, it was clear this was not the case.
“We made the zone very difficult,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “We’re dribbling when we should have been passing, passing when we should have been dribbling.”
Michigan struggled all night against the Eagles defense, which executed a 2-3 zone and press defense with great success.
The Wolverines’ biggest problem was their inability to get the ball down low. They were able to get little done in the paint, scoring only six of 25 first-half points from the inside the key.
Michigan’s glimmer of hope came in the second half when freshman Katie Dierdorf managed to gain a presence on the inside. She scored 11 points in her 13 minutes — all coming in the second half — but her effort was too little, too late.
Another problem that plagued Michigan was that nobody could excel on both ends of the court, at the same time.
“We had a group that I thought was doing a good job offensively against the zone, but then we were struggling a little bit defensively,” Burnett said.
The Wolverines’ struggles against zone and failure to get inside forced them to throw up more outside shots. After attempting just four 3-pointers against UNLV Monday night, the Wolverines fired up 20 shots from behind the arc. They succeeded in making half of these shots, which accounted for exactly half of their offensive production, but it would not be enough to stifle the well-prepared Eagles’ defense.
Although the Eagles do not usually play a zone defense, Eastern Michigan coach Suzy Merchant said her team often works on it in practice, as a “secondary option.” The only other time the Eagles used the zone this season was against South Florida –– and the Eagles held the Bulls to 49 points for the game.
“As much as I wanted to play a man (defense), I knew it wasn’t the right thing,” Merchant said. “But when you look at Michigan, they play nothing but man 99 percent of the time, so they’re used to playing against man.”
Merchant admitted that she felt freshman Ta’Shia Walker and senior Tabitha Pool would present matchup problems for her team –– and she was right. Walker and Pool combined for 29 points against the Eagles’ defense, but this could not make up for the rest of the team.
The Wolverines’ inexperience appeared to play a large part in their difficulties against the zone. Eastern Michigan was the first team to run this defense against them, but after Michigan’s troubles, it is doubtful it will be the last.
“We will definitely get better against the zone,” Burnett said. “We only have one option against the zone and usually we have 10.”
Although it would be easy for Burnett to place the blame upon her players, she takes full responsibility for their offensive failure. She believes that she as a coach did not come in prepared for the challenge which the defense would present.
“It’s my job as a coach to make sure we’re more multi-dimensional against the 2-3 zone,” Burnett said. “I keep saying we’re not as prepared as we should be, and that’s my job.”