Following its heartbreaking one-point loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals last season, the Michigan women’s basketball team entered this year looking for revenge.
Two weeks ago in College Park, the Wolverines played the Terrapins close for three quarters before Maryland pulled away and won by 15, adding more fuel to the fire for Sunday’s matchup at Crisler Center.
But instead of providing a fierce, hotly contested battle among top Big Ten teams, Michigan came out flat and played anxious, mistake-ridden basketball. In their 77-49 loss, the Wolverines endured many of the same struggles that plagued them in losses earlier this season — including turning the ball over 14 times in the first half alone.
“Our kids have played well against some top teams this year, so they really felt like this was an opportunity for us to get them at home,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We wanted to get Maryland back, and we came in really trying to do that, and I think that made us turn the basketball over a lot early.”
Points are typically hard to come by for any team that plays the Terrapins. Their size and athleticism helps them hold opponents to just 54.3 points per game on 34.7 percent shooting — good for 15th and 25th in the country, respectively.
But in the first half, the Maryland defense didn’t do too much to stifle the Wolverines’ shooting, as they shot a respectable 41.7 percent from the field. Instead, Michigan’s problems stemmed from its turnovers, which forced a low volume of shots. Though the two teams shot at about the same efficiency, the Wolverines attempted just 24 shots in the first half, which, when compared to Maryland’s 36 attempts, put Michigan in a nearly impossible position to succeed.
“I think that we’re just being kind of loose with the ball. We just think that the next pass will be there,” senior guard Akienreh Johnson said. “We’re starting to face teams that are just as long, just as quick as us, so we have to realize just like we’re long and quick, we’re athletic, we can jump, things like that — other teams can do that too.”
In the second half, the Wolverines cleaned up the turnovers, but couldn’t hit any shots to get back in the game. Similar to the first game against the Terrapins — where Michigan shot 1-for-12 from three — the Wolverines only hit 1-of-8 second-half 3-pointers. They tried to work it inside to sophomore forward Naz Hillmon, their most reliable scorer. But with the threes not falling, Maryland was able to close out down low and limit Hillmon’s effectiveness in the paint. Michigan made 14-of-38 layups on the game.
“(Maryland’s) size up front is pretty big,” Barnes Arico said. “We were going strong to the basket, but one, we didn’t finish, and two, we were knocked off the ball a little bit. But we gotta be able to make those plays.”
Against Penn State and Michigan State, the Wolverines played clean, disciplined basketball and indicated they may have moved past their turnover-prone offense. Sunday, against arguably the best team in the Big Ten, the Wolverines had an opportunity to prove they’re ready to take the next step up as a program, but missed it rather badly.
Still, the Terrapins won’t be Michigan’s last chance to make a statement this season. Though they missed a golden opportunity against an elite level team, the depth of the Big Ten this year means the Wolverines have plenty more high-profile games to show they can compete at the highest level.
For now, question marks will continue to surround this Michigan team. With the talent the Wolverines have, they likely haven’t yet reached their ceiling, but they first need to clean up their mistakes.
Otherwise, they may never find it.
Brendan Roose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrendanRoose.