INDIANAPOLIS — One second to go in the first half, and
sophomore Niki Reams found herself with the ball at half court.
With nothing to do but shoot, she lobbed the ball up and,
miraculously, it went in. The guard’s triple brought Michigan
within three of No. 6 Purdue in the second round of the
women’s Big Ten Tournament, and capped off a superb first
half by the Wolverines.

Unfortunately, the same could not be said about the second half.
Michigan (6-10 Big Ten, 14-17 overall) dropped a 78-55 decision
Friday to Purdue (14-2, 25-3) — it’s now lost to the
Boilermakers five consecutive years in the Big Ten Tournament. The
23-point loss was Michigan’s worst-ever in a Big Ten
Tournament game.

Early in the contest, fans watching from the stands of Conseco
Fieldhouse might have guessed it was Michigan who was the
sixth-ranked team in the nation, not the seventh-place team in the
conference.

Michigan, fresh off of a three-game winning streak, looked
confident and energized as it maintained a steady lead for the
first 11 minutes of play. After hitting their biggest lead of the
game — five — the Wolverines managed to keep the
Boilermakers on their toes, edging ahead several more times and
never falling behind by more than six for the rest of the half.

“Pregame, (we talked about) how much (Michigan) has
improved and how much they’re playing together and really
getting into it emotionally,” Purdue freshman Katie Gearlds
said.

“They outplayed us in the first half.”

But even though Michigan outshot Purdue from the field, at the
line and behind the arc in the first half, there were definite
signs of the disaster that was about to unfold.

With 6:52 to go in the first half, Pool was benched after
committing her second foul of the game. Smith and freshman Kelly
Helvey also finished out the half in foul trouble with three and
two fouls, respectively.

“That was really the first time that we had gotten three
of our prime-time players all in foul trouble,” Michigan
coach Cheryl Burnett said. “That really changed the
complexion of the game for us. Then we had to play a little bit
tentative, just because they’re trying to play
smart.”

Senior Stephanie Gandy, who was one of three Michigan players to
score in double digits in Friday’s victory over Illinois,
notched just four points in the first half.

A good measure of how a Michigan game will end up has been the
performance of the team in the first five minutes of the second
half. In Friday’s game, Purdue outscored Michigan 9-4 in this
time frame, extending its lead to 42-37.

Then Purdue pulled away. Gearlds made three triples in two
minutes, putting the Boilermakers ahead by 13.

At that point, Michigan began to unravel. Pool committed her
third and fourth fouls, and looked hesitant on defense. Meanwhile,
Purdue stepped up its defense. Michigan found it difficult to pass
or find an open look, and had to toss up many bad shots with the
shot clock nearing zero.

Turnovers also plagued Michigan. The team ended the game with 18
— seven of which occurred in the second half — compared
to Purdue’s eight.

Boilermaker point guard Erika Valek capitalized on the
turnovers, pushing the ball up the court for quick Purdue points.
Four Purdue players ended the game with double-digit points,
including forward Shereka Wright, who had 16 points and nine
rebounds.

With four minutes remaining, Purdue’s lead had increased
to 23, and the game was decided.

“I don’t think anybody ever (gave up),” Gandy
said. “You could see it on our faces.”

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