For the Michigan women’s basketball team, three consecutive turnovers to open the second quarter against Morgan State on Sunday invoked memories of its last home game against Notre Dame, in which the Wolverines lost after racking up 24 turnovers.
They limped into halftime with a meager eight-point lead over a Bears squad that entered the game with a 3-4 record, including a crushing 23-point defeat at Nebraska. Already up to 12 turnovers, Michigan couldn’t shake the turnover bug that has plagued it all season.
But the game changed after halftime. The Wolverines took much better care of the ball in the second half, making smarter passes and not forcing the ball through traffic. As a result, they tallied just three turnovers in the second half en route to a convincing 80-48 victory.
Many of Michigan’s first-half turnovers stemmed from its eagerness to get the ball in the paint. Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon leads the team with 15.5 points per game this season, so it makes sense her teammates would try to feed her in the post against smaller teams like Morgan State.
The Bears stifled this effort early on, using traps up high to force ballhandlers into bad passes and double teams down low to harass forwards or strip the ball away. The Wolverines were still somewhat successful at the hoop — 10 of their 15 first quarter points came in the paint — but their eagerness to continue feeding Hillmon and other forwards in the post resulted in turnovers and wasted possessions.
“I think that we had seen that they were small and they were very undersized, so we thought we could make easy, simple passes,” said senior guard Akienreh Johnson. “But they worked very hard to get around us on post-ups and get their hands in the passing lanes, things like that. So I think we kind of underestimated their ability to steal the ball.”
Michigan was visibly more patient with its passing in the second half. Instead of forcing early passes inside where the Morgan State defenders could swarm the post, the Wolverines worked the ball around the outside and scored from other places on the floor.
Freshman guard Michelle Sidor was central to this effort, as she shot 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. The diverse offensive attack opened up passing lanes and spread out the defense, preventing it from double-teaming down low and making passes to the post much less risky for the Wolverines’ guards.
“They were always in the paint, they always had two people on our posts, especially initially,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We felt like if we could move the ball a little bit, it would be tough to have two people on them.”
The Wolverines’ turnaround on offense was also helped by one of their defensive adjustments. They came out in the second half much more aggressive, implementing a full-court press and forcing seven turnovers as a result. This allowed Michigan to pick up quick buckets in transition before the Bears could get back on defense and pressure the ball.
Against mid-major teams like Morgan State, turnovers might not impact the final result. Even with their sloppy play in the first half, the Wolverines entered halftime with a comfortable lead and probably would have won without making these adjustments.
But Michigan cannot expect to beat better teams or compete during Big Ten play if it continues to give the ball away. It already lost one game this year largely because of its inability to hold onto the ball, but the adjustments made at halftime on Sunday are a good sign the Wolverines have the ability to fix it.
If they don’t, the team’s goals are already out of reach.