The Southern Mississippi women’s basketball team averages more than 72 points per game.
But that was before it came to Crisler Arena to face Michigan in the third round of the Women’s National Invitation.
Last night, Michigan held the Lady Eagles to their lowest point total this season in its 59-45 victory.
“If they’re not scoring points and you’re scoring them, it feels pretty good,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said.
With the win, the Wolverines advance to the quarterfinals of the WNIT for the first time in school history and will face Michigan State on Sunday.
The Wolverines (9-9 Big Ten, 19-13 overall) jumped out to an early 17-4 lead but quickly cooled off, scoring just four points in the remaining 12 minutes of the half.
The Wolverines shot an abysmal 30.8 percent from the field, in the first half,
After Michigan’s initial run, Southern Mississippi (8-8 Conference USA, 21-14) reestablished the tempo and slowly pulled back into the game, trailing by just three points at the half.
“We’re used to a faster pace,” Borseth said. “They play such a slow pace. They come up and dribble, dribble and wait for that ball screen, forever and ever, amen.”
Despite the poor offensive performance in the first half, the Michigan defense kept the team in the lead.
“It wasn’t just one person trying to deny the ball,” senior Janelle Cooper said. “Everybody was trying to do it collectively.”
Michigan forced 22 turnovers and snatched 11 steals, including four swipes by junior Jessica Minnfield.
Minnfield hindered the Lady Eagles’ offensive rhythm by stifling the ball screen at the top of the key.
But the Wolverines’ offense continued to struggle at the start of the second half, and for a few fleeting seconds, the Lady Eagles took their only lead of the game when Andrea Barber grabbed an offensive rebound, laid it in, and converted a three point play.
Down by one point, the Wolverines didn’t lose their composure.
“We didn’t want to lose,” Cooper said. “When they went out, we didn’t fall back and hang our heads. Everybody was like ‘we need to get going right now.’ “
The Wolverines “got going” 15 seconds later when junior Ashley Jones hit just her second 3-pointer of the season to ignite a 30-2 run that lasted over 12 minutes.
“We were a little hesitant on our shots,” Jones said. “I just wanted to come in there and provide a little spark. And we ended up starting to score.”
By the time the Lady Eagles finally regained their composure, Michigan led 55-32 with just over two minutes left in the contest.
Southern Mississippi scored 16 points in the remaining time – more than a third of its points.
In that stretch, the Lady Eagles showed flashes of the team it had been all season; the team with the highest field goal percentage (46) Michigan has faced all season.
But, Southern Mississippi didn’t play like that yesterday, held by Michigan to 39-percent shooting from the field.