INDIANAPOLIS — The No. 10 Michigan women’s basketball team has lost four of its last six games.
It’s time for the Wolverines to start worrying.
Worrying about their chances of returning to the Sweet 16. Worrying about their crumbling defense, once the team’s backbone. Worrying about their struggle to find offensive consistency.
Entering the Big Ten Tournament, it seemed as if Michigan would be hungry for revenge. Dropping three of its five last regular season games — and losing its hopes at its first ever regular season Big Ten Title — should be the perfect fuel for a tournament run.
Instead, the Wolverines added Nebraska to their growing list of losses.
In an inconsistent game, the smaller issues plaguing Michigan culminated in a heartbreaking loss, ending the team’s short-lived time in Indianapolis. With the same struggles following Michigan through each game, it’s clear the Wolverines’ problems run deeper than just individual matchups.
After Michigan’s win over Indiana on Jan. 31, the Wolverines were on top of the world. They were in the driver’s seat in the Big Ten and ranked sixth in the nation(the best ranking in program history); the season looked to be all Michigan hoped it would be. Accomplishing the seniors’ career-long goal of winning a Big Ten Title seemed within reach.
Then things came crumbling down. Two stunning upsets in early February at the hands of Michigan State and Northwestern — two unranked teams — brought Michigan’s championship hopes into question. And after a short run at redemption, the Wolverines faltered, falling to Iowa in a final bout for the Big Ten Title this past Sunday.
Against Nebraska on Friday, the result was no different.
Allowing the Cornhuskers to score 20 points or more in three quarters, Michigan’s defense — which the team has prided itself on all season — broke. The Wolverines’ offense could not execute down the stretch. Their foul trouble allowed Nebraska to make 14 free throws in the second half.
“I think our biggest thing is our defense,” senior forward Naz Hillmon said. “I think that that’s one thing that really fueled us early in the season, playing teams with potent offenses.”
So the natural question is, what happened?
Maybe they peaked at the wrong time. Maybe they rely on Hillmon too much. Maybe their end of season schedule was too difficult. Maybe they needed senior wing Leigha Brown, who missed time with a lower leg injury, to return much earlier.
There’s a million answers — and excuses — to that question. Most are valid concerns the Wolverines must address in the upcoming break between now and their opening game of the NCAA Tournament. After touting their ability to focus on one game at a time, and wanting to be the hardest working team in America, Michigan needs to hone in on its team philosophy now more than ever.
As the fate of their NCAA Tournament run hangs in the balance, just as their once possible Big Ten Title once did, it’s time for the Wolverines to be concerned about the issues that have plagued them down the stretch.
“I think these last couple games have exposed the attention to detail that we need to have,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Which we definitely have been working on, but when everyone’s not out there together, I think it’s really important.”
Only proactive solutions based on solving the recurring problems will save Michigan’s season from the clutches of defeat. It’s no longer enough to move forward hoping the issues will iron themselves out. Or to maintain that things will be OK once Brown comes back to full strength. Or to hope that the defense will finally click. Or that the schedule will get easier.
Instead, it’s time to worry.