Michigan was up by four, its groove was back—junior forward Hailey Brown just watched her third three-pointer go in the net to take the Wolverines into the fourth quarter.
And then, just as quick as it appeared, it disappeared.
Sophomore guard Amy Dilk scored a layup with 7:32 left in the game. The Wolverines wouldn’t score again for four minutes, when sophomore forward Naz Hillmon made her second of three free throws. They wouldn’t make a field goal for another 7:32, when Hillmon scored a layup with 0.2 seconds left.
“(Notre Dame) changed up their defense for a little bit more pressure in the post, in terms of doubling,” Hillmon said. “But also, like (Brown) said, we got a bunch of really good looks, we just had to finish them. And that’s tough, because you know that you ran the right play, you got to the spots, and you just have to finish.”
Michigan shot 15 percent from the field in the fourth quarter.
Despite the team’s best efforts under the glass — gathering seven offensive rebounds — the shots wouldn’t do a thing.
“I think we missed a bunch of shots,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “We were missing a bunch of chippies, our effort to go get them was great but we missed some easy ones and then (Hillmon) cramped up a little bit and that hurt a little bit. … We got tight, really.”
Yet one of the hardest parts for the Wolverine offense remained holding onto the ball. In the four-minute span where they couldn’t score, the Fighting Irish forced three turnovers. Whenever Michigan managed to grab a hold of momentum, its own mistakes would knock the hold loose.
With the Wolverines down by three and just over three minutes left, they were given a golden opportunity: Notre Dame threw the ball away, giving them a chance to make it a one score game. Instead, Dilk tried to fire a pass across the court and hit a Fighting Irish player in the face.
The chance was gone.
Still, the game was in Michigan’s hands — if it could knock down its free throws. But again, like it couldn’t hold onto the ball, like it couldn’t make layups, it couldn’t consistently get it done from the line — shooting 7-for-12 from the charity stripe.
The final 10 minutes of the game was a display of shortcomings for the Wolverines. A great defensive play would be followed by a turnover. An offensive rebound would be coupled with a missed shot, repeated twice more before Notre Dame would gather the ball.
It wasn’t the Fighting Irish’s overpowering defense that beat Michigan, it was their ability to capitalize on its mistakes. With 32 points scored off turnovers for Notre Dame, it got the job done in transition and around the hoop. The Wolverines didn’t.