With three conference clashes on the week’s docket, including two top-10 opponents and two road games, the Michigan women’s basketball team entered Monday’s matchup in prime position to make a statement.
For a team that opened the season with its sights set on capturing its first Big Ten crown in program history, this three-game stretch serves as a pivotal indicator of where the Wolverines stand amongst the conference heavyweights.
Kicking off the blockbuster week against No. 6 Indiana at home, Michigan (16-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) failed to prove its mettle, falling 92-83 to the Hoosiers (18-1, 8-1) in a game characterized by a lopsided battle on the boards.
“When we give up as many O-boards as we did, we can’t get stops on defense,” fifth-year wing Leigha Brown said. “A team that good (like Indiana) is going to make you pay, and that’s what they did.”
The Wolverines were out-rebounded 41-to-24 en route to surrendering 15 second-chance points off Indiana’s 14 offensive rebounds. Frustrated with her team’s performance on the glass at halftime, when the Hoosiers had already racked up 21 boards to Michigan’s 12, Wolverines coach Kim Barnes Arico read out each player’s rebounding statline in the locker room.
But nothing changed in the second half.
Instead, it was more of the same — and Michigan’s lackluster display on the glass turned into one of the daggers in a hard-fought loss.
From the opening whistle, the matchup’s energy and aggression lived up to that of a high-stakes showdown between two top-15 squads. However, for the No. 1 and No. 2 defenses in the Big Ten — Indiana and the Wolverines, respectively — a combined 175 points allowed was out of the ordinary.
Each time Michigan looked like it might be gaining some momentum on offense, the Hoosiers responded promptly by draining a 3-pointer or contested double. The Wolverines also struggled to share the ball on offense, finishing the game with just seven total assists.
Coming out of the locker room at halftime facing a 48-38 deficit, however, Michigan remained within striking distance of victory.
Not for long, though.
Scoring at all three levels, Indiana continued to extend its halftime lead throughout the third frame. The Hoosiers were lethal from behind the arc, dangerous from mid-range and overwhelming in the paint, and the Wolverines just couldn’t keep up.
In particular, Indiana forward Mackenzie Holmes consistently gained an upper hand over the Michigan’s bigs in the post, scoring a team-high 25 points in the process. Holmes also bullied the Wolverines on the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds and often taking advantage of second-chance opportunities.
“We saw tonight that she’s an elite O-boarder, we didn’t block her out very well,” senior guard Maddie Nolan said. “And she got a bunch of points that way, but she can also score going multiple ways.”
A glimmer of hope emerged for Michigan at the beginning of the final quarter following a 3-pointer from Brown — who scored a career-high 31 points. An and-1 from sophomore guard Laila Phelia further energized the crowd and tightened the score to 71-64, but the Hoosiers quickly reclaimed their advantage.
The Wolverines threatened another comeback around the halfway point of the quarter, but as it did throughout the entirety of the contest, Indiana responded once again. This time, a fadeaway jumper and layup stretched the lead back to double digits and put the game out of reach for good. Michigan brought itself within six in the final minute, but the effort proved to be too little, too late.
“We got to figure out a way to do a little bit of a better job than we did tonight,” Barnes Arico said. “But they were clicking on all cylinders and obviously we got to get better. I just think it speaks volumes to them as well.”
Entering this week, the Wolverines awaited the chance to prove themselves against some of the best in the Big Ten. Although they still have an opportunity against No. 10 Maryland on Thursday, they failed to do so against the Hoosiers after getting dominated on the glass.
And in the process, that lofty preseason goal of winning the conference — at least in the regular season — could be slowly slipping away.