The Michigan women’s basketball team has been prone to slow starts.
Typically shooting itself in the foot with early turnovers, it has been forced to bail itself out with stellar defense and consistent shooting. But against No. 24 Ole Miss, the Wolverines couldn’t manage the shooting accuracy needed to bail themselves out in an ugly scoring performance.
In the Battle 4 Atlantis title game, the Wolverines (4-1 overall) failed to bounce back from an early deficit, falling 60-49 to the Rebels (5-1) in their third and final game of the tournament.
“(Playing three days in a row) probably benefits the team that maybe goes inside or gets to the rim or goes off the bounce a little bit more than the team that traditionally shoots it,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said postgame.
On Monday, Ole Miss was the team that reaped those benefits.
Twenty of the Rebels’ 27 first half points came off interior touches, in large part from off-ball guards cutting to the basket when the Wolverines’ help-side defenders crashed to the ball. Typically, limiting an opponent to just 27 points and forcing nine turnovers by halftime would be enough for Michigan to establish a lead.
But against Ole Miss, the Wolverines scored just 19 points in the first half. Michigan’s offensive struggles lasted the entire half, largely due to its inability to get the ball into the paint. The Rebels aggressively denied entry passing lanes, forcing the Wolverines to attack off the dribble or try to find open shots beyond the arc.
And those shots simply weren’t falling — Michigan shot 2-for-15 in the first quarter, an abysmal 13% from the field. The lid on the basket didn’t come off in the second quarter either, as they shot just 2-for-12.
“I don’t think our team has ever shot like this,” Barnes Arico said. “And I think it’s a combination of things. I want to give Ole Miss a tremendous amount of credit for their length and their defense and their pressure and their physicality and their intensity. And I think that certainly had something to do with it.”
Even on the rare occasions when the Wolverines got the ball in the paint, the Rebels heavily contested those shots. Utilizing its length, Ole Miss blocked two shots, forced multiple travels and routinely denied graduate forward Taylor Williams and senior forward Cameron Williams’ post moves.
To start the second half, Michigan faced just an eight-point deficit, as the Wolverines’ stout defense kept the game surprisingly within reach. However, five minutes into the third quarter, no Michigan player had made more than one field goal in the entire game to that point, and junior guard Laila Phelia’s 11 points off of free throws made up almost half of the scoring.
Phelia’s ability to get to the line put her at 14 points midway through the third quarter. But her point total didn’t tell the full story, as her shooting mirrored the Wolverines as a whole, going just 1-for-10 from the field. As the only Michigan player to reach the double figure mark in scoring, Phelia’s efforts from the charity stripe weren’t nearly enough to shrink the gap, as the Rebels expanded the lead to twelve points heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, the Wolverines managed 19 points, including ending the game on a seven point run in which they made every attempted field goal. But that small burst was not nearly enough to make up for the game-long cold streak, especially as Ole Miss continued to pad its lead behind a barrage of two point shots.
While the Wolverines’ defensive presence kept the score close and gave them a slim chance, Michigan’s feeble offense allowed the Rebels to control the game from the opening basket.