To call it an emotional loss would be an understatement.
On Tuesday night, the Michigan women’s basketball team suffered its eighth-straight loss of the season to No. 5 Ohio State. After the game, the Wolverines looked deflated. Sophomore Kelly Helvey was crying. Coach Cheryl Burnett didn’t seem to know what to do next.
And forward Tabitha Pool was simply disappointed.
“It’d be OK if we get a loss if we went … hard, but I don’t see that,” Pool said after the game. “If you don’t have passion, then you aren’t going to win ball games. We’ve got to keep going. Even when we’re down 30 points, we can still come back. We’re not going to give up.”
It is Pool, the senior captain, who is the undisputed leader of the team.
Pool clearly believes Michigan can win. That conviction was evident by the determination in her eyes and the resolve in her voice as she talked about her team’s struggles on Tuesday night. It’s less clear whether or not her teammates share her conviction. Pool said that some of her teammates panicked against the Buckeyes, marveling at Ohio State’s scoring prowess rather than putting points on the board themselves. For Michigan to have even a chance of turning its season around, that cannot happen.
Before the season even started, Pool’s young teammates spoke of how much she had taught them about playing college basketball, mostly through her work ethic. After practice, Pool often stays late to shoot around with the other players, maintaining a positive attitude and encouraging her teammates to be positive, too.
Pool has also been Michigan’s best overall player. She leads the team in scoring (16.9 points per game), rebounding (9 boards per game), steals (31) and blocks (11). Pool is also among the Big Ten leaders in both scoring and rebounding, ranking sixth and third, respectively. She is 12th in the conference in steals.
Despite her impressive numbers, Pool has not played consistently in every game.
During the Wolverines’ 61-60 loss to Drake on Nov. 30, Pool had 13 points in the first half. While she finished the game with a solid 21-point performance, she also missed two shots in the final minute that could have given Michigan the win.
Against Ohio State, Pool committed four turnovers and scored just seven points on 1-for-8 shooting in the first half. But after halftime, she heated up and notched 16 points while turning the ball over just once. Pool regularly puts up big numbers and provides glimpses of the dominant player she can be. But it is less common for her to take over a game.
At the same time, Pool does not deserve all of the blame for the losses, nor can she be expected to turn Michigan around by herself. No matter how great a player or dynamic a leader Pool can be, she cannot win a game alone.
Without Pool, Michigan would not be nearly as competitive as it has been this season. The Wolverines have shown that they can play with any team for at least a while. Thirteen minutes into the first half against Ohio State, the score was 19-19. But the 28-point loss showed Michigan is not ready to stay with the elite teams in its conference for a full 40 minutes. It is hard to blame Pool — one of the better players in the Big Ten — for that.
Michigan is most effective when all of its players are doing what they do best — freshman Becky Flippin is draining 3-pointers, forward Ta’Shia Walker is controlling the post and Helvey is hustling after the ball. And freshman Krista Clement must continue to develop in her role as captain. The Wolverines will continue to struggle to win games unless everyone begins to play with more intensity and more consistency.
Pool has done almost all she can do to help Michigan win. Her defense and effort have rarely wavered. While not always consistent, her offense has at least been present. But Pool has not yet been able to motivate her teammates to perform in the same way. Her encouragement has enabled the team to endure an eight-game losing streak while maintaining its optimism. Now Pool needs to raise her intensity and play with the kind of emotion and drive that she showed after the game on Tuesday night.
Only then can her “passion” begin to inspire her teammates to do the same.