The Michigan women’s basketball team was well aware that its matchup against Michigan State would have an intensity unlike anything it has seen this season.
On top of the storied in-state rivalry, the Wolverines sought to break their attendance record at Crisler Center. Michigan fulfilled that goal and then some, more than doubling its previous record of 5,991 fans set in 2011, with 12,707 attendees on Sunday.
Unfortunately, the energy from the crowd wasn’t enough for the Wolverines (10-4 Big Ten, 21-7 overall), as they ultimately couldn’t keep up with the Spartans’ potent offense, falling 86-68. The loss to Michigan State (8-6, 18-9) ended Michigan’s perfect home record — the team had won its previous 13 contests in Ann Arbor this season. It was also the Wolverines’ worst 3-point shooting performance of the season, going a paltry 3-for-17 behind the arc, with usual 3-point specialist Katelynn Flaherty scoring just four points.
“We’re trying not to live and die by the three because we have an inside presence with Hallie (Thome),” said sophomore guard Nicole Munger. “Today we weren’t making them and they were, but we can’t let that control our effort on defense and other facets of the game.”
In the first quarter, Michigan’s defense was attacked early and often. Despite Thome scoring the Wolverines’ first eight points, the Spartans were nearly indefensible, hitting six of their first seven shots. Michigan State forward Tori Jankoska, in particular, shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the floor to tally 13 points — 28 for the game — and put her team up, 26-18, at the end of the quarter.
“To be able to set the tone for defense and offense, I think that starts with me,” Jankoska said. “I like to be able to do that for the team in the first quarter especially.”
Added Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant: “To come out with that intensity with Tori – she’s our energy guy. When she’s making shots good things are going to happen.”
Freshman forward Kayla Robbins, who has played sparingly in Big Ten play, was a welcome sight in the first frame for Michigan, as she scored eight straight points after Thome’s run for the Wolverines. The two were the only Michigan players to score in the opening quarter.
Eager to right the ship in front of the team’s largest home crowd ever, the Wolverines began the second quarter with a 3-pointer and a breakaway layup courtesy of sophomore guard Nicole Munger and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, respectively.
The Spartans continued their torrid scoring pace, but were unable to generate any offense in the paint. Low post pressure forced a number of turnovers and off-balance shots inside, and the Wolverines capitalized. Gondrezick went off for 13 points and two steals to spark Michigan’s comeback effort. The Wolverines hit six of their final eight field goals to retake the lead, 43-42, going into halftime.
But the real story at the half was Michigan’s defense. The Wolverines were winning the turnover battle, 11-4, and held Jankoska scoreless in the second quarter to make up for her outburst in the first.
The game of runs wasn’t over, though. After trading baskets to begin the second half, the Spartans used a 10-0 swing to take a nine-point lead that would quickly balloon to a 13-point deficit for Michigan. Baskets by Munger and Thome ate into Michigan State’s advantage, but seven third-quarter turnovers ultimately plagued the Wolverines, as they were down by nine going into the final frame.
“Once they went back to full strength at the start of the third, we didn’t adjust well and they got lead,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “At this stage of the game, people are (going to) know what you’re gonna do and we’ve gotta execute.”
From there, the Spartans’ offensive onslaught continued, and Michigan shot just 3-for-14 to compensate. Despite the record number of Wolverine fans in attendance, the Michigan State contigent overpowered Crisler Center with chants of “Go Green! Go White!” early in the quarter with the Spartans up by a decisive margin.
The loss exposed the Wolverines’ vulnerability to talented Big Ten foes, and they now have just two games remaining in the regular season to get back on track after dropping back-to-back games for the first time this season.