Women’s Basketball: Despite records, two teams play close

Jimmy Mitchell

Going into Thursday’s contest at Welsh-Ryan Arena, the floundering Wildcats and the up-and-coming Wolverines seemed to be traveling on opposite trajectories.

Northwestern had not won in more than two months and had been lodged at the basement of the Big Ten for almost the whole season, averaging a meager 53.2 points per game.

Michigan has rebounded from last year’s disappointing 3-13 Big Ten campaign to compile a 6-6 conference record. The Wolverines’ high-powered offense is fourth in the Big Ten in points, and it also leads the conference in 3-point field goals made.

Thursday night seemed to be the perfect recipe for a high-scoring rout. However, the 47-40 contest was anything but.

“It’s as low a score as you can get at the Division-I level,” coach Beth Combs said.

Michigan came out of the gate slowly, scoring only two points in the first five minutes. The Cats’ zone defense kept the Wolverines on the ropes, forcing them into low-percentage shots as the shot clock was winding down.

The Cats never trailed in the first half, and they held a 21-18 lead with 11 seconds left before the break. Michigan took possession after a turnover by senior guard Nadia Bibbs, and the Wolverines scrambled to attempt a potential game-tying shot.

But, in a manner symbolizing the ebb and flow of the first half, NU pressured the Wolverines and forced them into a long 3-point try that sailed short of the basket.

“On the board (in the locker room), what was basically written was, over and over again, that (Michigan) had such great shooters, 3-point shooters especially,” freshman center Amy Jaeschke said. “You had to make sure you had a hand in their face and not let them get those shots off, and take them out of their game.”

But difficulty arose in the second half, when it became clear NU could not maintain their uncompromising style of play for the entire 40 minutes.

“In the second half, I’d say we were getting a little tired and lost a little bit of focus,” freshman guard Meshia Reed said.

Michigan actually shot worse in the second half, making only 27.3 percent of its attempts. But the Wolverines finished the game with 61 tries from the floor, far surpassing NU’s 45.

NU’s lack of hustle on the defensive end permitted Michigan to put the game out of reach, even though the Cats out-shot the Wolverines by more than 10 percentage points.

“When you don’t box out, you give a team two, three second-chance opportunities, that kind of snowballs,” Combs said. “We had a series there when we were up by two, we gave up three straight offensive rebounds, and they hit a 3. That takes the wind out of your sails. We’ve got to dig down and force people to go one and out.”

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