One week ago, the Michigan women’s basketball team was ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press poll, riding a six-game win streak and boasting a 10-2 Big Ten record — the best start to conference play in school history.
Since then, things have taken a turn for the worse for the twenty-fifth ranked Wolverines (10-4 Big Ten, 21-7 overall). After a 72-61 loss at Indiana last Thursday, a game in which the Wolverines trailed by as many as 23 in the second half, Michigan was routed at Crisler Center on Sunday by rival Michigan State, 86-68. Given the season’s previous successes, the current slump has caught many onlookers by surprise.
“Michigan State and Indiana right now are fighting for their lives to make the NCAA Tournament,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico following Sunday’s defeat. “They (both) came out and played incredibly tough, incredibly hard and were able to make a lot of shots. That made it difficult for us to come back.”
A close examination of the numbers, though, reveals a clear picture as to why the Wolverines dropped their past two contests.
The most glaring figure is the percentage of 3-point shots Michigan is making. Prior to the loss to the Hoosiers, the Wolverines were shooting 40.8 percent from behind the arc — which was the best in the country.
Against Indiana, Michigan made just 27.3 percent of its threes, including an abysmal 1-for-8 stretch in the first half. The Wolverines’ long-range woes were even worse against the Spartans, as they shot 17.6 percent from beyond the arc and failed to make a single 3-pointer in the second half. Michigan now ranks fourth in the country in 3-point percentage, averaging 39.6 percent from long range.
“We’re accustomed to making (threes) so much that it’s almost one pass and a fire, instead of let’s move it, move it, move it,” Barnes Arico said, “and maybe get the best shot instead of the first shot. What’s happening is that we’re taking the quick shot and the other team is coming down and scoring. Then we’re taking a quick shot and not making them defend and the lead is growing instead of getting smaller.”
The Wolverines’ shooting troubles have had much to do with normally reliable scorers going through uncharacteristic slumps. Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who has made 38.9 percent of her threes during her career, failed to sink a single 3-pointer in 10 tries over the last two games. Freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, herself a 47.3 percent 3-point shooter, went a combined 2-for-14 from behind the arc in the last two games.
Flaherty was able to make up for her inaccuracy from distance on Thursday, as she sank eight of her 18 shots from the floor and tallied 23 points. But on Sunday, she went just 2-for-12 from 2-point range and mustered just four points, her lowest total in two years.
“I don’t think Flaherty had an easy look at all today, she had to work for everything,” Barnes Arico said on Sunday. “We have to, as a program and as coaches, try to get her some easier looks — try to run some things where maybe she’s going to get an open look.”
Defense was also an issue for Michigan, particularly against Michigan State. The Wolverines allowed the Spartans to make 58.3 percent of their field goals and 50 percent of their 3-pointers. Guard Tori Jankoska abused Michigan’s defense the most, making 10 of her 16 shots en route to a 28-point outing.
The Wolverines did not have nearly the same defensive woes against Indiana, as the Hoosiers sank 46.4 percent of their field goals and shot 36.8 percent from 3-point range. Michigan even managed to hold Indiana to one 3-pointer in eight tries in the second half of the game.
Yet forward Amanda Cahill and guard Tyra Buss still had their way with the Wolverines’ defense. Cahill notched a double-double against Michigan, totaling 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Buss recorded 21 points.
The good news for the Wolverines is that their next two opponents — Nebraska (2-12, 6-20) and Penn State (8-6, 18-8) — are both ranked outside of the top 50 in the Ratings Percentage Index. Even better for Michigan is the fact that the Cornhuskers boast the worst scoring defense in the Big Ten, allowing 75.9 points per game. It would appear that Nebraska presents a golden opportunity for the Wolverines to get their 3-point shooting back on track.
But Barnes Arico quickly brushed aside any notion that she views the Cornhuskers as an easy opponent, especially given the fact that they defeated the Hoosiers, 67-64, on Sunday.
“We always tell our kids, ‘Play for the team on the front of our jersey, and not the opponent,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “(The Cornhuskers) have no pressure on them. They’re loose, they’re carefree. They’re going to come in here and say, ‘Hey let’s upset Michigan.’ That would make their season.”