A season that turned bad quickly ended with a thud.
The Wolverines, who were a preseason favorite to win the Big Ten title, lost 62-49 to Valparaiso in the first round of the 2002 women’s NIT. It was the third lowest point total for the Wolverines all season.
Jennifer Smith led Michigan with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field. The rest of the Wolverines shot just 24 percent from the floor.
Not even Smith could match Valparaiso’s 6-foot-5 center Marlous Nieuwveen, who scored a game-high 26 points. She made all nine of her field goals and all eight of her free throws. Guard Katie Boone followed with 14 points and a game-high 12 rebounds, nine of which came in the second half.
Trailing by four points with five minutes remaining, the Wolverines allowed Valparaiso to pull away with a four-point possession. Jeanette Gray failed to convert a three-point play, but the Crusaders got their own offensive rebound. Tabitha Pool was called for a foul on Nieuwveen after what appeared to be a clean block, and Nieuwveen made both shots from the charity stripe.
Michigan scored just four points in the final five minutes of its season.
The game ended the careers of seniors Alayne Ingram, Heather Oesterle and Susana Jara.
Ingram, who was in tears after the game, shot just 2-of-16 from the field. The Michigan career 3-point shooting leader was also 0-for-5 from behind the arc and had five turnovers.
“(I went) into the lockerroom and realized it’s not my lockerroom anymore, and that’s hard,” Ingram said.
She was especially disappointed after how well the team played at the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan beat Illinois by 20 points and took Big Ten Champion Purdue into overtime before bowing out in the second round.
“It’s disappointing,” Ingram said. “It hurts and it sucks.”
Associate head coach Angela Jackson filled in for Sue Guevara while the head coach attended to her ill mother. As the head coach for a day, Jackson got a taste of the frustration Guevara has felt all season.
“We just couldn’t get it going offensively,” Jackson said. “We scored a bunch of points (at the Big Ten Tournament). I thought we played very well there and thought we could build on that. It just didn’t happen for whatever reason.”
The reason was Valparaiso’s swarming defense, which Crusaders’ coach Keith Freeman compared to the Wisconsin men’s basketball team under Dick Bennett that went to the Final Four in 2000.
“The way we play defense, if you aren’t used to it, it’s different,” Jackson said. “It is the old Dick Bennett stuff. We are contesting every pass.”
Valparaiso’s improved rebounding in the second half was also crucial in the victory. After being outrebounded by nine in the first half, the Crusaders had 21 boards in the second stanza, including one that set up Valparaiso’s key four-point possession.
The Crusaders jumped out to a 30-18 edge, led by Nieuwveen’s 18 points. As a team, Valparaiso shot 59 percent from inside the 3-point arc. Smith was the only Michigan player to record double digits in the first half, tallying 12 points.
The Wolverines trailed the entire game but closed the deficit to just one point four minutes into the second half after a 9-2 run coming out of the lockerroom.