It is said lightning never strikes twice in the same place, and that could spell trouble for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
Thursday, the Wolverines (3-5 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) will face Iowa for the second time this season. Both teams left off two weeks ago in dramatic fashion, when Michigan completed a stunning 17-point comeback against the Hawkeyes in Crisler Center.
Now, the Wolverines are hoping to earn their first season sweep of Iowa since the 2009-10 season. But on the road, comebacks are much harder to muster.
“If you get in a hole that deep on the road, it’s gonna be tough to come back,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in her weekly radio show. “Playing at Iowa, they always have great crowds, and they’ll have a great atmosphere, so that’ll be a little bit challenging.”
A struggling Michigan defense won’t make it any easier. Though the Wolverines are scoring 81.5 points per game, good for eighth nationally and third in the Big Ten, offense can’t win games alone. Michigan is 10-2 when scoring 80 points or more, but its two losses have come in its most recent games.
Sunday against Nebraska, Michigan gave up 93 points and allowed the Cornhuskers to take a 21-6 lead just five minutes into the game.
The game prior, the Wolverines lost to No. 7 Ohio State by just four points after allowing four Buckeyes to reach double digits in scoring.
“We really do have to get better defensively,” Barnes Arico said. “We have some really great offensive-minded kids, but none that really — maybe Siera Thompson, maybe Danielle Williams — that want to defend. Other than that, they want the ball in their hands and want to score.
“We have to get them to believe that playing defense is just as important to our program as playing offense. For us to be successful, we need some defensive stoppers and defensive-minded people.”
Considering that the Wolverines were barely averaging 60 points in Barnes Arico’s first year at the helm, scoring 80 points is not necessarily a bad thing. But Michigan will need to make a similar improvement on defense to set a path to the NCAA Tournament.
According to Barnes Arico, it’s the younger kids who “don’t really understand defense yet” — a sentiment she shared with men’s basketball coach John Beilein. Freshman center Hallie Thome, for instance, scored a career-best 24 points against Nebraska on Sunday, but fouled out of the game in the fourth quarter.
Thome is a major piece of the Wolverines’ lineup, especially under the glass, and without her, senior guard Madison Ristovski had to take on the Cornhuskers’ bigs in the paint. Considering Ristovski is 5-foot-10, it was a defensive mismatch.
To work out some of the defensive kinks, Michigan has placed a large emphasis on it at practice throughout the week. Heading into Thursday, the Wolverines have the advantage of already playing Iowa once this season.
“It’s nice having an opportunity to go back and watch us play against them and see where we really need to improve for the next game,” Barnes Arico said. “Iowa’s a great team. They were off to a tremendous start, and then they hit a little bit of a bump in the road. I think that’s what our conference has kind of been all year long — everybody’s beating everybody.
“(Iowa’s) on a little bit of a skid.”
With two straight losses, the Wolverines are in similar danger. They’ll need to steal a win on the road to break out of it.