The No. 13 Michigan women’s basketball team put up 83 points against the Big Ten’s best defense — one holding opponents to just 58.6 points per game — on Monday.
The only problem? No. 6 Indiana responded with a 92-point performance against the Wolverines’ own normally-stingy defense. Thanks to poor rebounding and poor defense, Michigan couldn’t come away with a victory Monday night.
“We were able to score the ball almost any possession that we wanted to,” fifth-year wing Leigha Brown said after the loss. “I think that the main thing is just getting defensive stops.”
Scoring 83 points on the conference’s top defense, one might assume the Wolverines had a good offensive game. But in reality, while the final numbers were there, the chemistry wasn’t. That inability to click has plagued them in numerous losses this season.
While shooting 48.2% from the field, Michigan only had a meager seven assists, lackluster compared to the 17.4 assists per game the Wolverines boasted going into Monday’s tilt.
“I thought (the lack of assists) was a key and we talked about it after the first quarter because we didn’t have any,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “… Usually when we move the ball a little bit more, we’re a little bit more successful as a team. And our assists have been really, really up this year and today’s number is kind of disappointing for sure.”
The Wolverines had zero assists in the third quarter as well as the first. In the two frames where Michigan did share the ball, it outscored Indiana by three points — a stark contrast to the Hoosiers’ 12-point advantage in the quarters where the Wolverines notched zero assists.
Monday’s performance can be attributed to numerous causes: Michigan is running four-guard rotations more than it has in years, bench players are earning more minutes but don’t yet have perfect chemistry with starters and graduate forward Emily Kiser is playing through a broken nose.
But whatever the reason may be, the Wolverines still haven’t fully clicked on a consistent basis.
“We want to make them score in ways that they don’t normally score,” senior guard Maddie Nolan said. “Obviously, we don’t want them to score at all, but if they are going to score, it’s not going to be the easy way. And we did not do that.”
Midway through conference play, Michigan is desperate to rectify Monday’s shortcomings for a shot at winning the Big Ten — either the regular season or in the tournament.
Because when a team has a versatile offense — one of only two in the country with three players averaging 16+ points per game — and the conference’s second-best defense, both sides of the ball have to hold up their end of the bargain.
Against No. 10 Iowa a few weeks ago, the Wolverines’ offense once again delivered. But Michigan’s defense wasted an impressive scoring performance, just as it did against Indiana, after allowing over 90 points.
Against No. 2 Ohio State less than a month ago, the Wolverines held the Buckeyes’ potent offense well below its average. But it was Michigan’s offense that couldn’t keep up, on the back of a litany of season lows.
“Coach talked a lot about (how) we’d cut (the deficit) and then we’d make some errors that weren’t really within our principles,” Nolan said after the loss to Indiana. “… We would cut it, but then on the other end, mentally being able to lock in and be able to focus on stopping what they want to do and we just couldn’t do that consistently tonight.”
The Wolverines have the pieces. Michigan has 3-point shooters in Nolan and sophomore guard Greta Kampschroeder. It has a three-level scorer in sophomore guard Laila Phelia. It has a lethal shooter and backcourt passer in Brown, and a talented post scorer and passer in graduate forward Emily Kiser. It has a stalwart defensive backcourt, headlined by Phelia. It has an ever-expanding bench that has come through in moments big and small.
What the Wolverines don’t have yet, though, is the level of cohesion they will need to win and build momentum in tough matchups as the season continues.
“Iowa and Indiana are two pretty good offensive teams,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re talking about two teams that are top-10 teams in the country, and we’re in single digits with both of them. So I think we’re pretty darn close.”
Michigan has gotten close numerous times. It’s been within reach in all three of its ranked losses thus far. But the Wolverines just couldn’t overcome their deficits. Whether or not Michigan is able to click could dictate how it fares the next time it faces a difficult challenge.
The Wolverines have the building blocks. They’ve demonstrated outstanding offense, dependable defense, respectable rebounding and potent passing. Consistently putting it all together in tough matchups is the final keystone.