The No. 24 Michigan women’s basketball team has had a relatively successful start to its season. But it could get real tough real soon for the Wolverines — especially if they continue to turn the ball over.
Michigan (6-2) has beaten the teams it has been expected to beat, and in convincing fashion. Out of the team’s wins so far, the closest margin was a nine-point victory against Oakland. The Wolverines have dominated opponents as well — notching commanding victories over LIU Brooklyn and Detroit Mercy, winning by 37 and 36 points, respectively.
There has also been success at the individual level. Guard Katelynn Flaherty is having a stellar senior season, averaging 23 points a contest, and she broke Diane Dietz’s record in mid-November to become the program’s all-time leading scorer. The freshmen have shined too, as forward Hailey Brown and guard Deja Church have established themselves as key contributors while guard Priscilla Smeenge has started to find more action over the last couple games.
But if Michigan hopes to find success moving forward, it needs to take care of the basketball.
The Wolverines are averaging 17.3 turnovers per game. That mark stands out considering their schedule hasn’t been overly challenging thus far. Big Ten opponents will be less forgiving — just like Louisville was.
Against the then-fifth-ranked Cardinals in the Preseason WNIT semifinals, Michigan led 37-32 heading into halftime with eight turnovers, proving it could compete with the best of the best. But the Wolverines failed to effectively manage the ball in the second half and lost the ball 15 more times, falling 74-49.
Eight turnovers is bad, but 15 is even worse and clearly made the difference.
Michigan made some progress in limiting turnovers after the blowout loss to the Cardinals, though. In their following two games against then-No. 3 Notre Dame and LIU Brooklyn, the Wolverines tallied just 22 total turnovers, and the problem seemed to be under control.
Then came Monday night’s game in Detroit.
Against the winless Titans, Michigan had eight turnovers in the opening period and the game was tied at 20. Many of the turnovers were travels, while others included completely errant passes and — in some cases — Michigan flat out lost control of the dribble at the top of the key.
Though the Wolverines dominated the rest of the game, they still racked up 20 turnovers by the final buzzer, which could have been disastrous against a tougher opponent. If they had just taken care of the ball from tipoff, they wouldn’t have struggled to settle in.
“I just think we needed to settle down,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico after the game. “We’re a work in progress — we’ve had some good games lately where we haven’t turned it over a lot, so I know that we are capable of doing it. I think we were trying to go too fast and do too many things at once. Once we settled in we were a lot better.”
With Big Ten play beginning on Dec. 28, the Wolverines have a few weeks left to work out the kinks. What they accomplish during this period will matter significantly because conference play will be much more competitive.
If Michigan learns to control the basketball — cherishing each and every possession — it can make the most out of its season. And the Wolverines’ coach has a plan to help her team accomplish such.
“We have a million drills that we do to handle pressure and to take care of the ball,” Barnes Arico said. “We actually run up and down those stairs on occasion when we start turning it over like crazy. We really put an emphasis on that, and the kids know how important it is.”