When the buzzer sounded at the end of the Michigan women’s basketball game against Michigan State on Sunday, the Wolverines were met by an unfamiliar feeling: defeat.
Prior to its loss to the Spartans, Michigan hadn’t lost in the month of February, winning seven straight games. Though the Wolverines battled throughout, a few trends re-emerged from the team’s struggles at the beginning of the Big Ten season.
With that in mind and only one regular season game remaining — against Wisconsin on Sunday — before the team prepares for the Big Ten Tournament and possibly beyond, The Daily looks at three big takeaways from Michigan’s defeat in East Lansing.
Amy Dilk struggled with Michigan State’s pressure
The freshman point guard played 29 minutes against the Spartans, nearly doubling the amount she played against Rutgers a few days earlier in her return from a knee injury.
The defensive aggressiveness of Michigan State’s guards caused Dilk — and the rest of the team — problems all afternoon. Dilk herself, turned the ball over seven times.
“We really struggled handling Michigan State’s pressure,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Right from the start of the game, we turned the ball over and they were able to get up big on us. Amy struggled a little bit as well. She hasn’t been in this situation in a while and probably not in her career being in a game like this.”
From an offensive perspective, Dilk made great strides prior to suffering her setback against Nebraska on Feb. 7. Between the beginning of Big Ten play and Nebraska, Dilk averaged nine points and just over five assists a game, while limiting her turnovers to 2.5.
In her absence, the Wolverines had to grind out wins against Penn State and Indiana. Dilk’s replacements at point guard, whether it was sophomore Deja Church, senior Nicole Munger or even junior Akienreh Johnson, didn’t look completely comfortable as the primary ball-handler and Michigan’s offense looked discombobulated at times.
On Sunday, it was Dilk who wasn’t completely comfortable at the helm. She looked a little rusty and a step slower than her normal game speed. The Spartans took advantage.
But with a full week before the Badgers come to town, Dilk should have time to continue her recovery and return to form.
One of the most talented players on the floor, even as a freshman, her play will be critical to the Wolverines’ success on Sunday and in the postseason.
“Going into the postseason, it’s just important that she has her confidence back and feels ready so we have our flow back again,” said freshman forward Naz Hillmon after the win against Rutgers.
The Spartans dominated the boards
If turnovers were at the top of Barnes Arico’s list of grievances after the Michigan State game, Michigan’s rebounding struggles followed closely behind. The Spartans controlled the glass all afternoon but their dominance was particularly evident in the second half while the Wolverines were mounting a comeback.
In the third quarter, Michigan State extended its lead from four to 11 points on the back of seven offensive rebounds. Excluding Hillmon, who finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, Michigan’s bigs — senior center Hallie Thome, sophomore forward Hailey Brown and junior forward Kayla Robbins — combined for seven.
Rebounding is one of the Wolverines’ greatest strengths, as they are top-20 nationally in rebounding margin. With that in mind, one off-game against a team with Michigan State’s size is understandable, but if their rebounding struggles persist, it could cost them come the postseason.
Michigan can still finish fourth in the Big Ten
In terms of the Big Ten, Michigan’s recent surge up the standings gave it some wiggle room heading into Sunday.
With a win against Wisconsin, the Wolverines would finish fourth in the conference, giving them a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Tentatively situated in the NCAA Tournament field as an 8-seed according to ESPN’s Charlie Creme, an automatic entry into the third round of the Big Ten Tournament would leave Michigan one win away from the semifinals, likely ensuring them a bid to the Big Dance.
First though, the Wolverines must learn from their mistakes ahead of their regular-season finale. With the benefit of their first full week of practice in six weeks, they will have that opportunity.
“We’re really struggling right now with handling some pressure as well as blocking out and not giving up offensive rebounds,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ll have a couple days to work on that before we have to start preparing for Wisconsin, but it’s nice to have a chance to work on Michigan.”