It was the biggest test so far for the Michigan women’s basketball team, and it was quite the nailbiter.
The Wolverines have had little experience with close contests, and their ability to perform in the clutch was more than tested last night at Purdue.
Michigan couldn’t convert two opportunities in the waning minutes of the game, allowing the Boilermakers to pull away with a 56-51 win.
The Wolverines had a chance to tie the game at 54 in the game’s final seconds when they got the ball after two Purdue free throws. The play was designed to get sophomore Krista Phillips open for the shot, but Michigan couldn’t get her the ball.
Instead, junior Jessica Minnfield took the shot and missed. Purdue sunk the final two free throws to make it official.
Moments earlier, the Wolverines missed another crucial opportunity. Down by one, Michigan (2-2 Big Ten, 9-5 overall) inbounded the ball to Minnfield. After another agonizing possession, junior Carly Benson found the ball in her hands as the shot clock expired.
Despite the turnover, Benson played one of her best games this season. She led the
Wolverines with 17 points and eight rebounds. The junior even hit a crucial shot with six minutes left in the second half that brought the momentum back to Michigan.
With just seconds remaining on the shot clock, the Carney native banked in a miraculous 3-pointer to pull Michigan within two, leaving the Purdue crowd stunned.
“I happened to have the ball and tried to get as close as possible, and luckily, it banked in,” Benson said.
Benson’s performances in the previous two games left much to be desired. She shot just 2-of-8 against Northwestern and 1-of-6 against Ohio State. But the power forward got back on track last night.
“It’s really critical for us to get some points out of that position,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “She hit some shots at a pretty good percentage.”
Michigan started its final comeback attempt strong. Senior Krista Clement nailed a three on the next Wolverine possession to pull Michigan back to within two. Phillips later added two buckets that briefly gave Michigan the lead on two different occasions.
But Michigan just wasn’t clutch in the final seconds of the game, largely because of poor offensive rebounding. Purdue’s leading scorer, Lakisha Freeman, poured in a late-game hoop off an offensive board to give the Boilermakers a lead they didn’t relinquish.
The Wolverines couldn’t convert in late-game situations – an aspect of the game that is almost impossible to simulate in practice. Michigan has been in just a few close games this year. The Wolverines’ closest game was a four-point win over Kentucky at Crisler Arena.
“There are some drills that Coach said we are going to work on,” Benson said. “They are called special situations, just making sure we are in a pressure situation where we know we have a certain amount of time and need to get a certain shot.”
Learning how to make big shots will be another step Michigan must take to continue the program’s turnaround.
working together, “working hard and working smart,” he’s confident Michigan will be up to the test.
“These guys are like a family,” Berenson said. “Families don’t always agree but they should stick together – that’s always been our theory. We keep reminding them: We may not have the best players but we could have the best team.”