EAST LANSING — The Michigan women’s basketball team struggled to find its stroke early and often in Wednesday’s game against Michigan State, but a 3-pointer from junior guard Jenny Ryan turned the tide for the Wolverines, giving them a 27-24 halftime lead.
Michigan coach Kevin Borseth wished the game could’ve ended there, which would’ve ended his team’s nine-game losing skid to its in-state rival.
But thanks to a one-two punch early in the second half from their pair of post players — redshirt senior Lykendra Johnson and freshman Jasmine Hines — the Spartans went on to win, 60-55. The two combined for a total of 18 points, putting a passive Michigan back line in a tight space.
“You got a choice — you have to play those big kids in front or behind, and when we played behind, they buried us,” Borseth said. “When they buried us, they would just turn and score. We struggled to get in front, found ourselves on the side of them and they used their leverage against us.”
The Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 12-3 overall) made a few in-game adjustments to try and subdue the duo — everything from a double-down to a three-two zone — but they could not be stopped. Strong pins led to easy lay-ins and complete control of the weak-side glass, two things Michigan desperately needed to hold on to its first-half momentum.
To compound an already-gloomy situation for the Wolverines, the changes ended up exposing two new weaknesses in Michigan’s defense — poor rotation to the corners and trouble getting through screens.
Though Michigan State (2-0, 10-5) didn’t have a very impressive night from beyond the arc, the wide-open looks created through screens and ball movement led to Michigan scrambling defensively, resulting in even more opportunities for the Spartans to score.
“We addressed Michigan State’s tendency to screen on the ball before the game, but it was an area we did not execute well,” Borseth said. “They were getting the high-low every time, and that really hurt us.”
Aside from the tough defensive match-ups, the Wolverines proved early on that they were capable of competing offensively with their in-state rival.
Junior center Rachel Sheffer led the charge with 20 points, including a 3-of-5 performance from beyond the 3-point line. Senior guard Courtney Boylan added 11 points and Ryan finished with eight.
Borseth pinpointed his team’s loss to a lack of offensive production during a three-minute stretch of the second half.
“In that stretch in the middle of the second half, we didn’t know what we were doing offensively and it cost us the game,” Borseth said. “If we were able to answer or have some fluidity, I believe it would have been a different outcome.”
The game marked the 10th straight loss for Michigan against the Spartans. Though the game will fall in the “L” column for the Wolverines, Sheffer remarked that there is a lesson to this loss, in particular, that Michigan is sure to carry with it for the rest of the season.
“That’s the Big Ten for you,” Sheffer said. “We are expecting nothing less than big, physical play from here on out.”