The No. 23 Michigan women’s basketball team is in a world of trouble.
After falling to Minnesota (9-4 Big Ten, 20-6 overall) on Wednesday, 93-87, the Wolverines have now lost four of their last five. Against the Golden Gophers, as well as its other defeats during the slide, Michigan had opportunities to come out victorious, but couldn’t finish.
In the first period, the Wolverines (9-6, 20-8) shot an efficient 47 percent from the floor. Given Minnesota’s abysmal 27-percent clip from the field, it seemed rather peculiar for the Golden Gophers to be up 21-19 at the end of the frame.
The reason for this? Minnesota was able to force Michigan to commit eight fouls, affording the Golden Gophers 12 free throws. The main culprit, junior guard Nicole Munger, racked up three fouls in the first quarter.
In the second frame, Michigan fouled only twice, giving up two Minnesota points from the charity stripe. However, the Golden Gophers were able to pick it up from the field, scoring 24 points, to take a 45-40 lead going into the half. The Wolverines’ deficit could largely be attributed to their dreadful defense and the lack of scoring from their big three scorers — senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, junior center Hallie Thome and Munger — combing for seven points; Thome and Munger were both held scoreless.
“They went to that box-and-one early where they were face-guarding Kate,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “At halftime, we felt like we were okay, even without her not scoring a lot because she had six assists and she was really moving the ball and finding them for high percentage shots.”
Flaherty came to form in the third quarter. The program’s all-time leading scorer tallied 13 points, including nine from behind the arc. Thome added 10 points of her own. This run allowed Michigan to take a 73-69 lead into the final quarter.
But then, things fell apart.
The Wolverines’ defense continued to be poor, allowing Minnesota to start the quarter on an 11-2 run. Michigan made a slight run of its own after a Flaherty 3-pointer, taking an 83-82 lead, but the Golden Gophers prevailed.
“I thought we ran out of gas a little bit,” Barnes Arico said. “We had some critical turnovers late. They made the plays they had to down the stretch and we did not.”
There was one bright spot, it was the Wolverines’ bench play, which had to step up, as starting freshman forward Hailey Brown out with a yet-to-be-determined leg injury. Michigan’s bench scored 27, including a career high 19 from sophomore guard Akienreh Johnson.
“I thought (Johnson) did a great job of moving without the basketball and was able to get some easy buckets just because of her movement,” Barnes Arico said.
With the loss, the Wolverines are now in jeopardy of missing out on the NCAA Tournament, again. This would be the second straight year Michigan’s late-season slide knocked them out of the tournament.
“We’ve been trying to stay really positive,” Barnes Arico said. “We talked about our seniors and juniors — Jillian (Dunston), Kate and Hallie — they need to make those plays down the stretch.”
The Wolverines now have only one regular season game left — at home against no. 10 Maryland. In a scenario that seemed unlikely just a few weeks ago, their postseason hopes just might depend on that matchup.