Hallie Thome was on track to earn her first collegiate double-double. Then she picked up her fourth foul.
It was a situation the freshman center had never been in. Play too aggressively, and she’d be on the bench the very next possession based on the way UCLA forward Monique Billings drew fouls seemingly every time she touched the ball. Play too conservatively, and the defensive pressure Thome had been putting on the Bruin frontcourt would disappear.
Thome ended up choosing the latter.
At that point, when UCLA’s guards drove the lane, Thome was the only thing standing in between them and the basket.
Her inexperience showed, as Michigan couldn’t put together a comeback against the 20th-ranked Bruins on Sunday, falling 86-77.
The Wolverines had been able to keep up with UCLA for the first half and the beginning of the second half. But Michigan began to show its immaturity around the time Thome picked up her fourth foul with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
After struggling with the Bruins’ height early in the game, the Wolverines’ offense ran through Thome. She had 20 points and seven rebounds when she was removed, leaving Michigan searching for a new strategy.
Freshman guard Boogie Brozoski committed two turnovers on the night, both in the time between Thome was subbed out and when she came back in with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter. With Thome off the court, the Wolverines committed five turnovers and were outscored 13-7 without an offensive option to replace her.
As UCLA continued to go to the basket, Michigan struggled to come up with an answer to stop them. Brozoski and freshman guard Nicole Munger couldn’t lock down their defensive assignments, and sophomore forward Jillian Dunston had to foul the Bruins’ forwards to prevent them from scoring easy baskets.
“We talk about it as a team,” Munger said. “We try and go out every game with the same mentality, and every single moment of every game. Nothing really changed because we have the same focus.”
But in this situation, not changing the game plan may have hurt the Wolverines. Michigan’s lead scorer was on the bench, and the younger players seemed to lose confidence as the deficit grew larger.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico knew the only way the Wolverines were going to get their confidence back was sending Thome back in. But the freshman was overcautious defensively, and didn’t know how to handle the situation knowing she couldn’t pick up the foul.
“She’s been in that situation before where she’s picked up fouls early and she’s had to sit out,” Barnes Arico said. “But it’s been a while. She’s going to need to learn how to play successfully with fouls, because we really need her on the floor.”
While Thome’s return to the game helped Michigan keep up with the Bruins offensively, it damaged the Wolverines’ efforts on the other end. Michigan had reduced UCLA’s lead to four, but by that time, the Bruins figured out how passive Thome had become defensively.
Barnes Arico believes the experiences her freshmen and sophomores gained could outweigh the blemish of a quality non-conference loss.
Inexperience caught up to the young Wolverine squad Sunday, and while it may have ruined their chance at an upset, making mistakes and competing for a majority of the game with a top-20 team will benefit Michigan with Big Ten play quickly approaching.
“We cut it to four and had some opportunities, and we didn’t make the best decisions,” Barnes Arico said. “Any mistake we made, they made us pay for. I think that is experience. On our side that’s a sign of our youth, and I think we’re going to grow and we’re going to learn from that.“