It was the sixth time it happened this season.
Once again, the Wolverines were on the road. Once again, there seemed to be a lid on the rim. And once again, they walked out of the unfamiliar stadium the losers, this time to Wisconsin falling to Wisconsin 58-54.
But this game added a little wrinkle to the Michigan road routine. After being down by as much as 18 in the second half, the Wolverines went on a spectacular run, and cut the large Wisconsin lead to just three. The comeback signaled that the team may be developing some toughness away from home.
Wisconsin, statistically the best defensive team in the Big Ten, held Michigan without a field goal for over eight minutes until junior center Krista Phillips knocked down a midrange jumper. The Wolverines didn’t break into double digits until there were less than six minutes left in the first half. And the Badgers held Michigan to a 24-percent shooting clip in the first half, about 10 percent worse than the Wolverines’ road average.
“We didn’t have any rhythm at all in the first half,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “We just couldn’t buy a basket.”
But Michigan trailed by just eight at halftime because it flexed its own muscle on the defensive side of the ball, allowing just 26 Wisconsin points in the first half. Trailing by just eight at halftime after the way the Wolverines played was a small miracle.
The Wolverines slowly started to slip in the second half. The Wisconsin lead slowly ballooned to 13, 16, 18.
It was at the seven-minute mark when Michigan began to slow the Badgers. Down 51-35, senior forward Carly Benson hit a layup. Senior guard Jessica Minnfield hit two free throws, and senior forward Stephany Skrba hit a jump shot. After a three-pointer by senior forward Melinda Queen, Michigan was down by nine and rolling toward a comeback.
With little to no post presence in the first half, Borseth credited the abrupt turnaround to getting shot opportunities near the basket.
“We kept getting to the rim,” he said. “They would foul us or we would convert, but we were getting to the basket.”
After a deflating Wisconsin three-pointer, Michigan continued its meteoric climb up the scoreboard, and cut the Wisconsin lead to three with a minute to go on a runner in the lane, courtesy of freshman guard Courtney Boylan.
Down four with 12 seconds left, a layup from Minnfield rattled out to end the game.
The second half saw Michigan drastically improve its shooting to 39 percent, but it wasn’t enough.
“Sometimes we passed on shots we should have taken and we took shots we shouldn’t have taken,” Borseth said. “We need to learn from that.”
Sophomore guard Veronica Hicks did her best to help Michigan out, even showing some swagger as she put a finger to her lips after nailing a three-pointer in the second half. Hicks, who has gradually become a regular among the team’s scoring leaders, ended the night tied with Queen for the team lead in points (12).
But the question remains: why can’t Michigan play the way on the road it does at home, where it has won six of seven games? Until the Wolverines find the answer, their road woes are likely to continue.
Borseth said the game was far from a complete disappointment.
“We stuck together when it looked really dismal,” he said. “You don’t want to quit. And we kept playing.”