The Michigan women’s basketball team still has a chance to become the best team in program history. Currently, the Wolverines sit at 22 wins — tied for the most ever. But with the NCAA tournament looming around the corner, they have an opportunity to win the elusive 23rd game.
While Michigan lost four of its last five matchups, it is still very likely to be selected for the NCAA Tournament. Selection Monday will be on Mar. 13, and the Wolverines will be in line for an at-large bid. With 32 schools gaining automatic entry into the tournament, there are 32 more teams chosen by a committee to compete with, and Michigan’s three weeks in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings may be an essential factor in the selection process.
Despite the positive NCAA tournament outlook, the Wolverines’ Big Ten Tournament loss to Michigan State was a crushing blow that illuminated their key weaknesses. In order for Michigan to accomplish its 23-win goal, it will have to correct some of its shortcomings.
The Wolverines had already played the Spartans on Feb. 19, falling, 86-68 — their worst loss aside from a 20-point defeat to No. 9 UCLA on Dec. 11. In the rivals’ Big Ten Tournament rematch last Friday, the Spartans won by just 10 points.
“Our kids really bought into the game plan,” said Michigan assistant coach Melanie Moore on WTKA. “And we did an excellent job of guarding (Michigan State guard Tori Jankoska) who, the first time we played them, I think scored 28 points on us. The kids were really locked in and we threw different defenders on them from (junior forward Jillian Dunston) to (senior guard Siera Thompson). But unfortunately, they had some other kids that stepped up and made shots, and it was just hard for us to get back after that.”
Even though the Wolverines were able to slow down certain members of the Spartan offense, they could not account for the scoring contributions of eight different players. Michigan, meanwhile, had just five players tally points, and just seven of those points didn’t come from the team’s three leading scorers: junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, sophomore center Hallie Thome and freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick. The Wolverines did not display Michigan State’s depth, and relying on their core scorers simply wasn’t enough.
Free throws were another deciding factor in the game. The Spartans made 10 more free throws — and 11 more opportunities — than Michigan, which also equaled the game’s margin of victory.
“We were trying,” Moore said. “We got people on our hips, and we were trying to be aggressive and attacking. We just weren’t getting the foul. So we were trying then to move the ball, go inside to Hallie. It just wasn’t happening. So we were telling the kids, ‘Crash, crash hard, try to get a second or third opportunity.’
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t go to the line as much as Michigan State, and that was probably the difference when you look at the box score.”
Not getting to the foul line is one thing, but the Wolverines also got themselves into foul trouble, which forced some of their talent off the court in crucial parts of the game.
“Unfortunately for us, we had almost every starter with two fouls early in the first half,” Moore said. “When Hallie picked up her second early in the second quarter, we had to sit her, and that allowed Michigan State to go on a run.”
While the loss was a tough pill for Michigan to swallow, it will have ample time to refocus before the NCAA Tournament. If the Wolverines earn an at-large bid, they will start playing the weekend of Mar. 17.
And they certainly haven’t given up.
“They’re excited,” Moore said. “They can’t wait to get back in the gym, and they feel like they have unfinished business.”