While Sue Guevara might not have circled Jan. 10 on her calendars back in the fall, tonight”s tilt with Ohio State has now become extremely important for the Wolverines.
After ripping off 10 straight victories and netting the program”s highest-ever ranking of 12, Michigan (1-3 Big Ten, 11-4 overall has lost to Illinois, Purdue, and Wisconsin. So the Wolverines need a strong showing against the Buckeyes (3-1 Big Ten, 8-7 Overall) who are off to their best start in the Big Ten since the 1998-99 season.
Since Michigan started Big Ten play, its intensity on defense has gone south. In Michigan”s Big Ten opener against Illinois, the Illini poured on 50 second-half points to upset the Wolverines. Sunday in Madison, the Badgers buried a team record 11 three-pointers.
“We, as a coaching staff, have to get back to basics and stick a firecracker up their tails to make them play some defense,” Guevara said.
At least Michigan will be playing a team that is banged up as well. Ohio State is now down to a meager seven players. After losing four players during the nonconference schedule, guard Tomeka Brown went out with a knee injury in the opening moments of last Sunday”s game against Northwestern, and the Buckeyes later lost starting center Courtney Coleman to a concussion.
“We had a nice rotation of about seven and now we have a nice solid rotation of around five,” Ohio State coach Beth Burns said.
The amount of injuries has forced Burns, who has employed man-to-man defense her entire coaching career, to implement a match-up zone.
In an attempt to turn things around, Guevara has made a couple key changes. Senior guard Susana Jara will start at the point in place of Heather Oesterle. Guevara hopes the move will jump-start the play, of Alyane Ingram. In conference play Ingram, while being the team”s shining star at Purdue, has not shown the defensive intensity that Guevara and the coaching staff would like.
“She”s got to stay always in the attack mode,” Guevara said.
Guevara is going to try to give starting post players LeeAnn Bies and Jen Smith more rest in the first half tonight.
“They”re playing a lot of minutes,” Guevara said. “I have to give them more of a break in the first half of a game to give them a little bit more rest to have fresh legs down the stretch.”
To keep them fresh, look for Katrina Mason to get more time throughout the game.
But while Michigan is 1-3 in conference, there is no need to panic with 12 games still to go.
“It is still way to early,” said Burns, who voted Michigan as the No. 1 team in the conference at the beginning of the season. “I think standings are a little bit overrated right now.”