In Monday’s matchup against No. 6 Indiana, the No. 13 Michigan women’s basketball team was tasked with scoring on one of the nation’s best defenses. And they did just that, scoring 20 points above the Hoosiers’ average allowed — more than any team had this season.
But it didn’t matter.
In a 92-83 loss to the Hoosiers, the Wolverines let up their second-highest point total of the season. Michigan fell behind just two minutes into the contest and never regained the lead, despite a late offensive burst. In what was supposed to be a defensive battle, a pedestrian back-end effort kept the Wolverines out of the contest throughout — preventing any chance of an upset victory over one of the Big Ten’s top teams.
Heading into the game, that defensive effort looked to be the difference for both teams. Indiana ranked first in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing just 58.6 points per game, while Michigan ranked second, allowing 60.4.
“They’re a great team,” senior guard Maddie Nolan said. “They’re ranked No. 6 for a reason and they have multiple kids that can score, as we saw tonight.”
After taking a four-point lead just a minute into the game, the Wolverines started to fall apart on the back end. Indiana excelled from close-range — leaning on forward Mackenzie Holmes, who finished the first quarter with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting. Her success allowed the Hoosiers to jump out to an early 26-16 lead.
“I think we let them get comfortable,” Nolan said. “I think their first couple points (came) in transition or on wide-open threes … Then they got in a rhythm, and got comfortable, and could pick us apart from there.”
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico echoed that sentiment postgame.
“They were a potent offensive team,” Barnes Arico said. “And we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole. I felt like we were always trying to battle back.”
Following Indiana’s strong first quarter, the Wolverines faced an uphill battle to retake the lead. Michigan deployed a variety of different lineups trying to slow the Hoosiers’ attack. They turned to freshman forward Alyssa Crockett, sophomore guard Ari Wiggins and sophomore guard Jordan Hobbs in the first half.
But the defensive lapses persisted.
By halftime, the Wolverines trailed 48-38. Holmes had 15 points on 60% shooting, and a balanced, inside-out Indiana attack kept the Wolverines from cutting into the deficit. The Big Ten’s second-best defense was on track to give up 96 points.
And that pace never let up, with the Hoosiers ended up finishing just four points from that mark. Despite late-game heroic efforts from fifth-year wing Leigha Brown and sophomore guard Laila Phelia, Michigan never threatened to overtake Indiana in the second half. Especially weak was the Wolverines’ interior defense. Everytime Michigan’s offense made a dent into its steep deficit, Indiana fired right back, scoring with ease from inside and out.
The Hoosiers shot 51% from the field on the night, and 50% from three-point range. The Wolverines looked outmatched throughout, failing to challenge their opponent consistently in any defensive area.
And moving forward, improvement on that end will be essential to Michigan’s success.
“I think we’ve really got to lock in at the defensive end,” Brown said. “And tonight we were unable to do that. Allowing almost 50 points in the first half, it’s hard to win games when you’re allowing that many points to a team like Indiana.”
In what was supposed to be a defensive battle, almost 50 points in one half is lethal — as is letting up 92 points overall. Despite their defensive strength up to this point in the season, tonight’s loss proved that the Wolverines aren’t yet able to compete with the Big Ten’s top talent — especially defensively.