The No. 13 Michigan women’s basketball team was on a roll. The Wolverines were on a six-game winning streak, and attained their highest national ranking since reaching No. 12 in 2001.
But then on Thursday, things took a turn as Michigan fell to Purdue, 81-79, in overtime.
“I think, you know, the rankings got to us a little bit, which can never happen,” said senior forward Jillian Dunston. “I’m angry that we lost, but if we had to get a wake-up call I’d rather get it now.”
We will find out how effective that “wake-up call” was on Sunday afternoon, when the Wolverines (8-3 Big Ten, 19-5 overall) face Rutgers (5-5, 17-7) in Piscataway.
The Scarlet Knights completely revamped last year’s team that finished with an abysmal, 6-24 record. While some of their improvements can be credited to adding transfers to the roster, fifth-year senior guard Tyler Scaife’s return to the court has been the real difference-maker.
During her junior year, she was Rutgers’ second-highest leading scorer. That year, she averaged 17.2 points per game and was named Second Team All-Big Ten. Scaife missed all of last season, though, as she took a medical leave to have open-heart surgery. Her tremendous recovery has been crucial to her team. She came back stronger than ever, and now averages 19.8 points per game.
The Scarlet Knights sit at eighth in the Big Ten — five spots behind Michigan — and are coming off an 88-60 loss to No. 11 Maryland. They hope to end their four-game losing streak Sunday, and could do so if the Wolverines don’t get it together.
Against the Boilermakers, Michigan looked to be steady but then blew a 16-point, fourth quarter lead. The upset was much due to the offense’s end-of-game slump. Numerous sloppy passes coupled with hesitation led to the catastrophic finish.
The Wolverines lacked decisiveness in transition throughout the game. They also struggled to defend the arc, giving up a season-high 11 3-pointers.
Still, there were some positives for the team. Freshman forward Hailey Brown excelled for Michigan, finishing with 18 points. The freshman forward has stepped it up over the past month, and could help her team recover Sunday.
“She’s been incredible,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She is just playing with a lot of confidence right now. She really gives us that extra scorer that we need.”
If the Wolverines learn from their mistakes and keep their guard up for all four quarters, they could regain their confidence against the Scarlet Knights. But it won’t be easy.
“Rutgers is a team that’s gonna press and be physical, so we gotta be ready to bounce back and handle one of the best scorers in the country in Tyler Scaife,” Barnes Arico said. “We know we got a tough stretch coming up. We let one slip at home, which is really tough, but we gotta bounce back. There’s a lot of season left to be had.”