The Michigan women’s basketball team experienced a bittersweet moment Sunday afternoon. While the Wolverines played in front of the largest crowd in program history, a sellout crowd of 12,707 fans, they dropped their rivalry game against Michigan State, 86-68. Enthusiastic Michigan fans helped crush the previous attendance record of 5,991 that was recorded the last time the Spartans came to Crisler in 2015. This record-shattering attendance illustrates how far the women’s basketball program has come at the University of Michigan. Fans have embraced this team’s newfound success that is built upon head coach Kim Barnes Arico’s game plan to make Michigan a women’s basketball school.
Going into Sunday’s game, the Wolverines were ranked No. 20 in the country and were looking to tie a program record of 22 wins. Instead, Michigan lost back-to-back games for the first time this season and are now 21-7 and 10-4 in the Big Ten. It seems that the Wolverines are feeling the pressure of the uncharted waters that come with being the most successful team in program history.
Before Thursday’s 72-61 lost in Indiana, Michigan’s offense was explosive, shooting a league best 40% from three point range. Led in scoring by Katelynn Flaherty (19.8 points per game), the Wolverines have also benefited from the dynamic scoring and passing abilities of Kysre Gondrezick (14.3 points per game) as well as Hallie Thome’s high percentage scoring ability in the paint (15 points per game on 63% shooting). Michigan’s success leading into this weekend could be attributed in large part to the team’s ability to move the ball with ease on offense to find one of its many scorers the best shot possible. When one player was having an off night, another would step up and the offense would continue to roll.
In the past two games against Indiana and MSU a different Wolverines team has showed up to play, one that is just a shell of the true offensive abilities of this team. Against Indiana, Flaherty was the only Wolverine who could get a shot to fall, scoring 23 points. The next highest scorer was Thome (10 pts), and the team shot a horrid 21.1% from three. Adding insult to injury, Michigan was unable to hold on to the ball, turning it over 17 times. They also struggled to stop Indiana’s number one offensive option, Tyra Bust, allowing her to score 21 points.
On Sunday, Michigan’s offensive woes continued with the Wolverines shooting only 17.6% from three. Despite the offensive efforts of Thome (21 points) and Gondrezick (19 points) Michigan was unable to overcome poor team shooting and the uncharacteristic performance of Flaherty, who only scored 4 points on 2 for 12 shooting. On the other end of the floor, the Spartans couldn’t miss, converting on 58% of their field goals and 50% from long range. An unstoppable Tori Jankoska did it all for Michigan State (28 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal) and the Wolverines were unable to find a matchup that slowed Jankoska’s scoring attack. On several occasions Jankoska pulled up and knocked down a long three in transition with a hand in her face, and she finished the game 5 of 10 from downtown.
In the back-to-back losses, Michigan has missed senior point guard Siera Thompson’s usual stabilizing presence. Thompson, who is rarely the high scorer but instead brings leadership through her court vision and ability to hit open threes, had little impact against Indiana (9 points, 2 assists) and Michigan State (2 points, 2 assists). As the starting point guard for four seasons, Thompson’s leadership on the court has been a crucial component of Michigan’s success. Kim Barnes Arico and Thompson will need to work together to help the senior regather her on-court composure in order to help the Wolverines get back on track.
After a couple of setbacks, Michigan needs to take a step back and return to the basics. As KBA has said, the team needs to enjoy the moment and forget any outside pressures that come with the higher expectations of being a ranked team. If the Wolverines continue to embrace their motto
“By Any Means” and take each game one at a time, they will find themselves playing the type of basketball that got them to the best start in program history.
The Wolverines head into Thursday’s game against Nebraska ranked No. 25 and will celebrate their seniors Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams in their last home game of the season at 7 pm. You can tune into WCBN’s broadcast of the game on our YouTube channel or here on our website.