Photo by C. Morgan Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

“It’s tough.” 

Those were the words of Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in her opening statement after the team’s loss to Baylor. 

The last shot in Michigan’s historic season was a missed 3-point attempt. 

Junior wing Leigha Brown had less than one second to get the shot off. Down by three in overtime against Baylor, the shot determined whether the Wolverines’ season ended or if the team would compete in double overtime. She missed.

Michigan’s loss was not caused by Brown’s missed shot, but rather the Wolverines’ poor 3-point shooting throughout the earlier parts of the game. Their desire to knock down more long-range baskets than usual dug them into a hole that was tough from the team to climb out of. They left too many points on the board by shooting too many 3-pointers. 

Michigan is not a renowned 3-point shooting team, only shooting 30.1% from behind the arc. The identity of the team does not revolve around their accuracy from deep nor is it based upon the number of shots they take from behind the arc. 3-point shooting has always been a complementary part of the offense, but never the sole driver. 

In the loss against Baylor, however, 3-point shooting seemed to take precedence in Barnes Arico’s game plan. The team, which averages 17 3-point attempts per game, shot 24 times from behind the arc, only making nine of those shots. 

The Wolverines started cold from the field. 

In the first half of the game, senior forward Hailey Brown went 1-for-5 from the 3-point range, and the team went 3-for-13. Poor shooting wasn’t because of a lack of open looks or even rushed attempts, the rapid ball movement that Michigan had showcased all year created many open opportunities for the team; it just couldn’t capitalize on those opportunities. 

In the second quarter, junior forward Naz Hillmon drew defenders into the post before bouncing the ball out to graduate guard Akienreh Johnson, who was cutting out to the baseline. Johnson, upon seeing Baylor defenders in the area, passed the ball quickly out to Leigha Brown who then dished it to a wide-open Hailey Brown who was waiting at the 3-point line. Brown missed the wide open shot. 

The entire passing sequence only lasted a few seconds but was long enough for Brown to get open and take what should have been an unpressured 3-point basket. A 35.2% 3-point shooter on the year, Brown failed to close on the opportunity handed to her by her teammates, a pattern that was repeated in the first half of the game too frequently. 

The second half was when the Wolverines recovered their shooting skills. 

Going 6-for-11 in the second half, including overtime, Michigan saw multiple players knock down threes. Each long-range shot seemed to instill more confidence into the team as they fought back to compete with Baylor. 

Johnson sank a three to start off the second half, demonstrating that Barnes Arico’s team would not go down without a fight. Immediately on their next possession, junior guard Danielle Rauch also knocked down a three. Coming into the second half, and especially after Johnson’s and Rauch’s shots, the team was fired up and ready to go. 

“I’m complimenting Michigan because I haven’t seen them on film shoot the three ball like that all year. But it’s tournament time, it’s playoffs, it’s do or die,” said Baylor coach Kim Mulkey. “They had kids who barely averaged scoring and they were hitting threes. (They) almost doubled the number of threes they averaged all year.”

Despite the second half revival of the team, the Wolverines were not able to change their identity over the course of one game. By focusing on knocking down 3-point shots at the beginning, Michigan left plenty of points on the board and allowed Baylor, at one point, to build up a 12-point lead. 

While they were able to come back and bring the game to overtime, a leopard cannot easily change its spots.