In less than a week, the Michigan women’s basketball team will travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. But before they go, the Wolverines must remedy the issues Iowa exposed during a tough matchup Michigan ultimately lost, 67-89, on Feb. 25.
On the offensive end, Michigan struggled to generate points. Only two starters, junior forward Naz Hillmon and junior wing Leigha Brown, scored in double digits, an unusual stat for a typically balanced offensive attack. Without that spread-out scoring effort, Michigan relied heavily on Hillmon to create offense, and it went poorly.
Three-point shooting has been a struggle for the Wolverines for the entire season, but the Hawkeyes continually exposed those issues on Thursday. Overall the team went 4-for-19 from behind the arc, shooting just 21.1%. Three of the four made shots came from senior forward Hailey Brown despite seven different players taking at least one attempt.
“Our guards really tried to force things initially and tried to make things happen instead of making extra passes,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Once we settled down, we seemed to shoot the ball a little bit better.”
Rebounding, typically a strong facet of Michigan’s game, was also lacking against Iowa. The Wolverines typically out-rebound opposing teams by an average of 12.8. On Thursday, Michigan out-rebounded the Hawkeyes by just one rebound. Hillmon, who averages 11.8 rebounds per game, only had eight.
On the defensive end, Michigan struggled to defend the 3-point line. Iowa freshman Caitlin Clark couldn’t be contained, going 7-for-12 from behind the arc. Fifth-year senior Akienreh Johnson, the Wolverines’ best defender, struggled to guard Clark — who finished with 27 points — the entire night. Throughout the game, Michigan tried different strategies with each starter taking a turn guarding Clark, but none were successful.
As Clark remained efficient from three, and Iowa’s lead grew, the Wolverines started to give up shots in the paint to contain the perimeter. Michigan switching mentalities so early in the game allowed Iowa center Monika Czinano a chance to work down low. Hillmon was left alone in the paint to guard Czinano. Shooting 7-for-8 from the floor, Czinano forced a split between perimeter and paint defense, fragmenting the Wolverines’ defense even more.
Personal fouls have also been a sore spot for Michigan lately. Since their first game back after the two-week break against Purdue, the Wolverines have struggled with foul trouble. Against Michigan State, foul trouble almost derailed Michigan’s hopes of winning in the fourth quarter. In the match-up with Indiana, four of the Wolverines’ five starters ended the game with four or more fouls.
Against Iowa, four players ended the game with three or more personal fouls, forcing Barnes Arico to trot out awkward lineups that create space for opposing teams to build up leads. Michigan will need to better manage its personal fouls if it wants to keep its best players in important games.
With only two games left in the regular season, the Wolverines will have to capitalize on their typical assets to escape the season without acquiring more losses. As teams start to figure out how to contain Hillmon, Michigan’s offense is starting to sputter. Multiple zone looks from Ohio State and Michigan State have troubled the Wolverines’ offensive production. This team’s foundation is defense, and they’ll need it more than even moving forward into the postseason.
Before Michigan hits the road for the Big Ten Tournament, it’ll have a chance to remedy its struggles against No. 8 Maryland and Northwestern. With the cancellation of the Minnesota game, the Wolverines have just a week of practice to work out the kinks.
Only time will tell if that’s long enough.