It took junior forward Naz Hillmon almost four minutes to get her name in the box score in the Wolverines’ game against No. 8 Maryland. By this point, the No. 12 Michigan women’s basketball team already dug itself an 8-point hole.
With Hillmon neutralized early in the game, the Wolverines’ inability to create their own shot proved to be their demise. The eight point deficit only grew throughout the game as Michigan’s one-dimensional offense proved to be no match for Maryland’s high-powered offense, leading to an 88-64 drubbing.
In its second-straight and worst loss of the season, Michigan’s Achilles heel was once again exposed.
“It’s hard to create your own shot when they’re packing the paint, and that’s kind of what they’re doing,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They’re leaving the outside shots open. We got to make some of those outside shots.”
By taking Hillmon away, Maryland forced the Wolverines to hit open shots, and they couldn’t. Michigan shot 45.1% from the field, but just 18.8% from beyond the arc, both below its season average.
Maryland employed a full-court press for the majority of the game, something the Wolverines expected but still failed to crack. With Hillmon effectively taken out of the game by double and triple teams for most of the first quarter, players like junior wing Leigha Brown, senior forward Hailey Brown and graduate guard Akienreh Johnson were expected to step up and fill the scoring void.
Johnson and Leigha Brown came out of the gates aggressive, but the Terrapins’ stout defensive speed and length thwarted their attempts.
“Even if you’re trying to drive and try to create that lane, there really (were) no driving lanes because they’re really packing into paint,” Barnes Arico said. “If we can knock down some of those shots, I think that will extend it. And that’s something that we need to try to make sure that we’re doing moving forward.”
Brown finished with 14 points on an inefficient 5-for-13 shooting from the field. The wing usually makes her impact by using her speed in transition, but Michigan managed just three fast break points on Thursday.
Besides for Brown’s handful of transition attacks, Michigan struggled to generate its own shots. On multiple occasions, the Wolverines made quick passes around the perimeter trying to find an open player to no success. Whether Johnson or a slew of other guards had the ball, none produced any offense. Playing in a double digit deficit most of the game, Michigan’s inability to get shots off early in the shot clock made it impossible to ever gain any real momentum.
“It would have been interesting if we knocked down some shots early from the weak side, how they could have defended us,” Barnes Arico said.
Maryland has the highest scoring offense in the country, averaging 91.7 points per game coming into the game. Regardless of how good an opposing defense is, the Terrapins are going to find a way to score. This makes it impossible to beat them while shooting as poorly as Michigan did Thursday.
“I do think that we got a couple of open people, we just have to hit those open looks,” Hillmon said. “I think there’s sometimes a difference between us and our opponent … when they get the open looks they make those shots. Obviously, no one (is) sitting here trying to try to miss open shots, you know, we’re going to get back into the gym and work on that.”
Scoring 63 points might have worked against non-conference opponents or those at the bottom of the Big Ten. But against Maryland, who clinched a Big Ten title with the win, and the sorts of top opponents Michigan hopes to take on in the NCAA Tournament, a one-dimensional attack will not cut it. The Wolverines need to play better if they hope to stand a chance at taking any top-tiered opponent.
“As much as we would like to outscore teams, putting up 60, that’s not going to do it for us,” Hillmon said. “We gotta get some stops or put some points on the board. I do think the last two teams we have played were very great teams.”
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