Last week, the Michigan women’s basketball team’s undefeated, record-tying start to the season came to a screeching halt — something not easy for Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to cope with. Sunday, after Barnes Arico’s post-game press conference, she sighed. The team had just lost 86-77 to then-No. 20 UCLA. It was Michigan’s second loss in eight days, one weekend after another, the first coming at Princeton last Sunday.
“We just need to win one these darn ones!” Barnes Arico said, shaking her fists.
For stretches, the Wolverines outplayed their opponents, leading the Bruins multiple times and keeping Princeton’s lead close until midway through the third quarter.
The Tigers, though unranked, were far more dominant than UCLA. Princeton (8-1) won by 17 in the end, but for a stretch of the third quarter, the game was within Michigan’s reach. A few minutes after halftime, Michigan junior guard Siera Thompson hit a jumper that cut Princeton’s lead to six.
At one point in the fourth quarter against UCLA (5-2), Michigan chipped the opponent’s lead to four. But led by guard Jordin Canada, an early candidate for the Naismith Award, the Bruins responded with an 8-0 run to regain control.
Under pressure for the first time all season, the Wolverines were turning the ball over, playing frantic and struggling to make the right decisions. Late in the game, UCLA made them pay for any misktake they made.
“That is experience,” Barnes Arico said. “On our side, that’s a sign of our youth.”
Winning was a matter of executing in the fourth quarter. Michigan failed to do so, so it dropped its two most important games ahead of the Big Ten schedule.
The UCLA game was Michigan’s chance to break through.
In her fourth season as head coach, Barnes Arico was off to an incredible start. Freshman center Hallie Thome, the top recruit from Ohio, was turning heads, leading the country in field goal percentage, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty was putting up career-high, 30-plus point games and the Wolverines were blowing teams out of the water, sometimes by 40.
The Princeton game was clearly a mismatch, but Michigan wasn’t expected to win its first road test — excluding the easy 88-61 victory in Detroit — against such a quality opponent. With UCLA, a team Michigan took into overtime in last year’s WNIT semifinal, there was no reason to believe the Wolverines didn’t have a shot.
They came out ready, but taking a top-20 team like UCLA down to the last few minutes is only going to help the Wolverines’ resume if they actually come out on top.
With two weeks remaining until the Big Ten schedule begins, finishing out close games has become an issue. It seemed like a win in either of these games would have jumped Michigan up to the fringe of the top 25, somewhere it hasn’t been since January 2013, during Barnes Arico’s first season.
“Attention to detail, that’s something we need to work on getting better at to be a top 10, top 20 team in the country,” Barnes Arico said.
It was already hard to judge Michigan’s potential during the undefeated stretch, but it didn’t get any easier after the two losses. The Wolverines handle inferior teams, but questions remain as to whether they can step up to clinch a big win when they need it most.