Amid a crowd of 12,707 – a sold-out crowd at Crisler Center – be-speckled with maize, blue, green and white, the No. 20 Michigan women’s basketball team fell to Michigan State (8-6 Big Ten, 19-9 overall) in the second-to-last home game of the regular season.
Despite a two-game losing streak — to Indiana and now the Spartans — Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico isn’t bending under the pressure.
“Once you start winning, everybody expects you to win every one,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re not going to win every one, and coming into the year those weren’t the expectations. But once you start winning, those expectations significantly change.”
Added sophomore guard Nicole Munger: “We’re not afraid of hard work. And that’s what this week is going to be about. Get ready for a big bounce-back.”
The Wolverines battled through seven-lead changes throughout the game and managed to earn a 43-42 lead going into halftime. They used scoring-runs by sophomore center Hallie Thome (21 total points), freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick (19) freshman forward Kayla Robbins (8) and Munger (12) to try to power past Michigan State.
But, ultimately, a poor defensive showing from Michigan, and a dominant offensive performance from Spartan guard Tori Jankoska led to the Wolverines’ downfall.
The Daily breaks down where Michigan stands after this weekend’s performance.
The Wolverines (10-4, 21-7) reached the 20-win mark faster than any other season in program history. And, if the team wins both of its upcoming games against Nebraska and Penn State, Michigan could still tie the record for most-ever wins in a season, previously reached only in the 1999-2000 and 2012-2013 seasons.
The fan base is noticing the upward trend of the Wolverines and proved it by breaking the previous record for tickets sold by more than 200 percent.
“That was probably the best atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of,” Barnes Arico said. “If I could just thank the Michigan fans and the crowd today, it was incredible.
“My first year here, it was a great crowd, and it was mostly green, which was horrible. But today, it was mostly maize and blue, and it was unbelievable.”
Other positive aspects of the game included “spark plugs” like Munger, who was used in the last half of every period to push past deficits. Munger sunk 12 points, grabbed five rebounds and contributed an assist in 21 minutes of playing time.
“I love coming in and playing (our defensive scheme) that I’m at the top at,” Munger said. “Even if it is just for a couple minutes, (I’m) bringing that spurt of energy.”
Even with this weekend’s loss, the Wolverines are still two games ahead of both the Spartans and Hoosiers, who trail them in the Big Ten rankings. Michigan is still poised to notch a spot in the NCAA Tournament, something Michigan State is vying for with intensity.
“Everybody might be, ‘What’s going on? You just lost two games back-to-back,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “But we lost two games against two really good teams, and I think it’s important for our program at this state to remain positive and to keep our confidence and to continue to try to practice to improve every day.”
Still, Michigan is facing pressure to perform in its next two games to keep that spot open. Any major dip and its chances at a spot in the tournament for the first time since Barnes Arico’s first year at the helm of the program could be in jeopardy.
Defensively, the Wolverines fell victim to large scoring runs that Michigan State used to build a sizable advantage. The first was a 14-4 run in the first half of the third quarter – typically, a strength of the Wolverines’ – and the second was a 19-10 run in the final period.
Adding to the Wolverines’ struggles was junior guard Katelynn Flaherty’s inability to reach the rim. With just four points, Flaherty’s typical presence on the court was missed.
“I think teams have scouted us,” Barnes Arico said. “I don’t think (Flaherty) got an easy look at all tonight. I thought she had to work for everything. So we got to, as a program, as coaches, try to get her some easier looks.”
Jankoska consistently befuddled Michigan’s defense using a “right-to-left, behind-the-back crossover, step-back for a ‘3,’ ” according to Munger. Despite the Wolverines’ best efforts, the Spartan was impossible to step in her way.
“I keep using the term ‘get better,’ because there’s a lot of different things we got to get better on.” Munger said. “I think our one-on-one defense has been pretty poor the past couple of days. In practice, the past few days, we really focused on that and I think we got better at it. Michigan State just did a great job of hitting shots today. Really hard shots. We were contesting them, but that’s no excuse because we need to get right up next to them and make it a harder shot for them.”