During the second half against Maryland on Wednesday night, Madison Ristovski gave the Michigan women’s basketball team a fighting chance.
With every rebound, steal and basket the senior guard made, she kept the Wolverines afloat against the sixth-ranked Terrapins, who were hungry to finally take the lead. Largely due to Ristovski’s second-quarter heroics, Michigan came out of the first half leading a top-10 opponent by one point.
But the Wolverines’ strong first-half defense eventually succumbed to the pressures of an unstoppable Maryland offense. As was the case Jan. 14 against the Terrapins, Michigan allowed a few scoring droughts to get the best of it, and Maryland came out unscathed with a 76-56 win in College Park.
“I thought we did a great job, obviously, in the first half of really taking Maryland out of what they normally do,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “But the No. 6 team in the country really showed why they were the No. 6 team in the country tonight with the balanced attack they had.”
Michigan’s full-court press completely took Maryland for a spin in the first quarter by forcing 11 turnovers and allowing the Wolverines (7-8 Big Ten, 15-11 overall) to defensively assert their dominance. In fact, the Terrapins didn’t even score their first field goal until four minutes into the game — knocking down just two free throws two minutes prior.
Unable to keep possession, Maryland (13-2, 24-3) turned the ball over at half-court twice in a row, which allowed sophomore forward Jillian Dunston to score four of Michigan’s first six points 30 seconds apart.
“The scary part against Maryland with doing that is their size,” Barnes Arico said. “But we went with it anyway just to try to change that tempo, and that really was effective for us and helped us be able to score.”
The Wolverines’ defense was shining, and that helped spark good things on the offensive end. But in the second quarter, Michigan went on a 3:41 scoring drought and the Terrapins’ 10-0 run brought the game to within only one point. Ristovski didn’t let the lead slip, scoring two baskets before the drought and two to end it, and allowed her team to stay up at the half despite four lead changes in one minute.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Maryland figured out how to fight past Michigan’s defensive pressure, which prevented the Wolverines from making the stops they needed to. This then translated into a hurried Michigan offense that went cold at the wrong times.
The Wolverines went on three-and-a-half-minute scoring droughts in the third and fourth quarters, both ended by Ristovski — who finished the game with 15 points and six rebounds.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty led the team with 17 points and scored seven of Michigan’s last 10 points. But her late-game push couldn’t chip away enough of the deficit created by a big and physical Maryland squad.
“We came out (in the first half), and we were scrapping and clawing,” Barnes Arico said. “We had a ton of hustle plays, and then we kind of got worn down. That’s kind of attributed to a bunch of things, but one is definitely Maryland. They really wore us down.”
One of those other things that contributed to the Wolverines running out of gas was their eight-hour flight delay yesterday, which put the team in bed at 3:30 a.m. According to Barnes Arico, it made her “a little bit nervous” coming into the game, but she gave credit where credit was due in saying Maryland was the stronger team.
With Michigan looking to make the NCAA Tournament, a win Wednesday night would’ve certainly helped. But in the first half, the Wolverines showed glimpses of the type of contender it could be against a top-tier team.
The skill level is there. From here on out, it is consistency that will push Michigan far into the postseason.
“We want to get to (Maryland’s) level,” Barnes Arico said. “In the first half, we proved that we could hang around. Now our next step has gotta be putting together a complete game.”