The Michigan women’s basketball team lost its first game of the season Sunday, failing to achieve what would have been a historic 8-0 start.
The Wolverines’ record fell to 7-1 after they played outside of Michigan for the first time this year. It never really looked like the Wolverines had a chance to redeem last year’s loss to Princeton. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said the team was playing “catch up” from the opening tip. Despite another scoring frenzy from sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty, the Wolverines couldn’t come out with a win.
Here are five things we learned from Michigan’s first loss of the season.
1. Turnovers are a problem…
Barnes Arico mentioned how the team looked “really young” against Princeton, referencing the 22 turnovers. Freshman guard Boogie Brozoski and Flaherty share the team lead 21 giveaways each. Brozoski had just three on Sunday, but each of them seemed unnecessary. She is known to thread the needle, making flashy, artful assists that find teammates all around the court, but she may have tried to do that a little too much this weekend.
Along with Brozoski, junior guard Siera Thompson had a team-high five turnovers. Every Wolverine besides senior forward Kelsey Mitchell, who played for just five minutes, registered at least one turnover. Princeton scored 19 points off them.
2. … But rebounds have not been.
The rebounding gap left by three former seniors, Cyesha Goree, Shannon Smith and Nicole Elmblad, appeared too big to make up at the start of the season. The trio accounted for nearly 60 percent of the Wolverines’ total rebounds last year. But with the addition of freshman center Hallie Thome, the entire team is stepping up on the glass.
Thome, at 6-foot-5, isn’t even leading the team in rebounds. Sophomore forward Jillian Dunston has 54, and four other players average at least four per game. Unlike last year, the team hasn’t had to rely on a “Big Three” to get the majority of the rebounds. Michigan didn’t beat Princeton in most categories, but it did come out on top in the rebounding department, 35-31.
3. Thome’s height isn’t as dominant as it looks.
As one of the tallest centers in women’s basketball, Thome is going to stand out. Up until Sunday, nobody could find an answer for Michigan’s newest weapon. All Thome had to do to lead the country in field-goal percentage through her first six college games was put her hands up where no one else could reach, catch, make a post move and finish.
Princeton’s frontcourt, though, was made up of two seniors: Annie Tarakchian and Alex Wheatley. The pair held Thome to just three points, her worst performance yet. Wheatley and Tarakchian were both stronger than Thome, and physicality was the difference maker. There won’t be many opponents, even in the Big Ten season, that can match Thome’s height, but if they can play more physically, they might be able to win the post battle.
4. Michigan is better than last year.
It’s hard to guess how much better the 2015-16 team is, but the 17-point loss to the Tigers was far better than the year before. In 2014, Princeton and Pittsburgh beat Michigan by 30 and 19, respectively. The Wolverines beat Pitt by 37 on Thursday.
The aforementioned graduated seniors left plenty of gaps, but new faces are making big improvements. Dunston and Thompson are both taking on bigger roles. Three different freshmen — Thome, Brozoski and guard Nicole Munger — are all getting significant minutes, surprising Barnes Arico with their contributions.
5. BOLD PREDICTION: Flaherty will set Michigan’s single-season scoring record.
The Wolverines’ star player is averaging 21.3 points per game through the opening eight games of the season. Flaherty set her career high with 34 against USC Upstate, and she missed that tally by only one against Princeton. The sophomore already holds the No. 9 spot on the list with 499 in her freshman year, and she’s on pace to beat that by a landslide.
Odds are Flaherty won’t be tossing up too many 30-point outings once the Big Ten season begins, but she has already scored 170 points this year. Jennifer Smith set the record of 659 points in the 2003-04 season. There are 21 games left in the regular season, and if Flaherty keeps it up, she won’t be too far from it.