By many standards, the Michigan women’s basketball team has had a rough few weeks.
Since Dec. 22, the Wolverines have endured three matchups against ranked opponents, resulting in a loss to Florida State and two to Maryland — the last of which being a 77-49 blowout — plus a loss at unranked Ohio State. In these defeats, Michigan suffered just about every problem a basketball team can face, from turnovers to cold shooting to defensive collapses.
Still, during that span, the Wolverines managed to pick up blowout victories over Penn State and rival Michigan State. Though these wins do little to numb the overall disappointment from this stretch, they show Michigan is still capable of competing at a high level — if it’s having a good day.
The Wolverines will need a lot of good days to salvage this season.
The Big Ten is having one of its best seasons in recent memory, with Indiana, Maryland and Iowa all cracking the top 25, plus Rutgers and a surprisingly tough Northwestern team both receiving votes.
“Every year, I say (the Big Ten) is getting better and better. But this is arguably the best that its ever been,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Obviously they’re talking about 10 teams being in the NCAA Tournament, so from top to bottom the league is tremendous, and we’ve played a bunch of great teams already. It’s a grind, and I think our kids are adjusting to that, as are all the other kids in the league.”
To manage the grind of the Big Ten, the Wolverines have required consistent individual performances across the board. Each starter offers a unique skill set that can change a game in an instant, but tends to disappear in big moments.
Take junior forward Hailey Brown. Her strong outside shooting provides the team more than just the three points. It creates space for Michigan’s ballhandlers to get to the hoop and pick up a bucket or a foul. But in the Wolverines’ four recent losses, she shot a combined 3-for-20 from three — a far cry from her 33.9 percent season average.
Then there’s sophomore guard Amy Dilk. Her quickness off the dribble and often incisive passing makes her a nightmare for opposing defenses when she’s at her best. As a result, she held the team together against Florida State and in the first Maryland game, scoring 26 and 18 points, respectively. But she went cold against Ohio State and in the second Maryland game, putting up just seven and two points, respectively.
The list goes on and on. Michigan’s lineup is loaded with talented players that can be elite when they’re at their best. But they never seem to be at their best at the same time, and that leads to miscommunications, frustration and a lack of confidence.
Make no mistake, though, this season is far from over. The Wolverines are through the toughest part of their schedule, and their upcoming matchup with a struggling Wisconsin team will give them an opportunity to clean up the errors and get a few players going.
And many of them have been here before. Last season, Michigan lost five of seven in the month of January, before an 8-1 finish to the regular season propelled the Wolverines to a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament — where they lost to conference-best Maryland by only one point.
A repeat of that won’t be easy.
But Michigan has shown that it is doable.