Senior captain Carly Benson stood alone at the podium during last night’s postgame press conference following the Michigan women’s basketball team’s 41-37 loss to Michigan State. Her face was down until finally, the first question came. She looked up and sighed.
“I don’t think I can do this,” Benson said through tears.
Almost on command, senior Jessica Minnfield and junior Krista Phillips surrounded their teammate, ready to take on the tough questions as a unit.
The disappointment came from the Wolverines’ first Big Ten home loss of the season, from losing three straight to the Spartans and from not capitalizing on a lead late in the second half.
“I think we came unglued,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We just got mixed up. I thought we had a good game plan going at it, and we had a lot of really good looks.”
The Wolverines (2-4 Big Ten, 9-8 overall) drew a large crowd for the in-state rivalry game. The Michigan student section chanted “can’t read, can’t write,” “little sister” and “(Michigan State) coach (Suzy Merchant) is hot”, which even made members of the Spartan bench smile.
Michigan played a solid first half, much to the credit of Phillips containing the Spartans’ 6-foot-9 junior center Allyssa DeHaan.
Michigan State (4-2, 11-6) was evidently rattledearly, throwing the ball away on multiple occasions and racking up 11 turnovers in the first half. It was apparent the Spartans were feeling uneasy with their play heading into halftime, and trailing 17-16.
Minnfield sparked the Wolverines with an early 3-pointer to start the second half, but both teams traded baskets for the next 10 minutes. With 12:57 left, Benson hit a 3-pointer to put Michigan up six.
But in the second half, Merchant had her team switch defensive looks to keep Michigan on its heels. The Wolverines experienced a field-goal drought during the next nine minutes and 23 seconds as the Spartans turned their six-point deficit into a five-point lead.
With 3:36 left, Minnfield made a steal, layup and free throw, with 3:36 left, while bringing Crisler to its feet and giving the Wolverines a much-needed burst of energy. Shortly after, Benson hit a deep 3-pointer from the corner to give the Wolverines a lead heading into the final minute.
But before the celebration for Benson’s 3-pointer had ended, Spartan redshirt junior Aisha Jefferson drove the lane and converted a layup while being fouled by senior Stephany Skrba for a three-point play.
Jefferson was clutch on her free throw, and the Spartans as a team shot 10-of-14 from the line. But to Borseth’s dismay, Michigan made just five of 12 free throws.
“It is the whole game,” Borseth said. “We make free throws and the game is different. We didn’t make any free throws.”
On the other end, the Wolverines heaved up another one of their 35 3-point attempts of the night. DeHaan grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made her free throws to extended the Spartan lead to four and close out the night.
The home loss is an obvious disappointment for the Wolverines, who head to Minnesota this Sunday. Although Michigan is 0-3 on the road in Big Ten Conference play, Minnfield is positive that her team will overcome this loss.
“We gotta forget about it,” Minnfield said. “Staying confident, staying together as a team, that’s all we really can do. We can’t dwell on this loss, we just have to move on.”