As the time ticked down on Saturday, the frustration began to mount. Michigan was staring its first defeat of the season in the face. Down by four with two minutes left, sophomore guard Amy Dilk took the ball down the court and saw a play open up before her eyes.
Junior guard Hailey Brown drifted toward the corner along the three-point arc after moving off from the screen she had set. Dilk brought the ball up and threw a bullet across the court, aiming just below the hoop, a perfect pass — if Brown was driving toward the basket.
Instead, it hit Notre Dame’s Sam Brunell in the face — a turnover. The chance to grab momentum and claw its way out of a hole disappeared with two minutes left.
In late October, as the Michigan women’s basketball season was just about to start, coach Kim Barnes Arico listed nearly every player on the roster, detailing her thoughts on the steps they took in the offseason and where she expects them to be.
“(Dilk’s) gotta value the basketball,” Barnes Arico said. “It’s gotta be incredibly important. She can’t have a ton of turnovers. Her assist-to-turnover ratio has gotta be around two-to-one.”
Through five games, though, it’s barely over one-to-one.
The matchup with Notre Dame started with a turnover from Dilk, just seven seconds into it.
Dilk is hardly the only one committing turnovers for the team, though. As a whole, Michigan commits 17 turnovers a game — 185th in the country. Its assist-to-turnover ratio is 114th in the country. Its turnover margin is 216th in the country.
Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, ranks 206th, forcing an average of 16.4 turnovers a game.
Through just five games, all of the Wolverines’ starters have found themselves already with double-digit turnovers on the season, with sixth-woman Izabel Varejão close with nine. Despite Dilk’s low assist-to-turnover ratio, she remains the only Michigan player who gets major playing time to have a positive ratio.
Against Western Michigan in the first game of the season, the Wolverines started off with a bang — scoring ten straight points in two minutes. It was three minutes and four turnovers before they would score again.
“I would definitely say that (the turnovers) were more so our (fault),” Brown said. “Whether that be a travel, or even we’re catching it, reversing it and throwing it right to the team’s hands.”
For an offense with a plus-14 rebound margin that makes baskets 45 percent of the time, turnovers are the thing holding the team back — taking away its momentum — and gifting it to the opposition.
Against weaker teams, like Bradley and Western Michigan, the true cost of those mistakes weren’t evident. The Braves would go on a run, but the Wolverines’ size would eventually quell them. They could afford to go minutes without scoring against the Broncos, their hold on the game never in doubt.
But Saturday, against Notre Dame, it was the easy fast-break opportunities that gave the Fighting Irish the victory. They outscored Michigan, 32-9, on points off turnovers.
Forty-two percent of their points came off turnovers.
On Dec. 5 the Wolverines will play their next big opponent, No. 18 Syracuse. In the meantime, they will have the ability to regroup from their loss.
Dilk will have another two games to settle back into the season and find the consistency Barnes Arico was looking for.
The rest of the team will have two games to limit its travels. Two games to limit its offensive fouls.
Two games to seal the biggest hole the team’s shown this season. Two games to stop the turnovers.
This story was written by Kent Schwartz, who can be reach on twitter @nottherealkent