Indianapolis — The pace of Michigan’s second-round Big Ten tournament game against Nebraska was unpredictable Friday. Like someone running a race, running out of breath, then speeding up and then repeating the whole process over again.
The result for Michigan, however, was a 61-54 defeat at the hands of the Cornhuskers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“I think Nebraska is the kind of team that forces you to play that way,” Wolverine coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We would rather play at a faster pace, but when we got it going we weren’t able to take care of the ball.”
The Wolverines (22-9) finished with 15 turnovers with 10 coming in the second half. The Cornhuskers also allowed 14 points off those turnovers.
It was a game that started off slow as they trailed 15-11 at the end of the first. The first 10 minutes consisted of 4-of-16 shooting from Michigan and zero points in the final 4:09 of the quarter.
“I think they took us out of what we wanted to do offensively,” senior guard Katelynn Flaherty said. “There was a lot of things we could have done differently.”
Some of things Flaherty mentioned the team could have improved on was getting defensive stops and keeping Nebraska off the boards as the Wolverines were outrebounded 45-38 and allowed 14 offensive rebounds.
In the second quarter, the pace picked back up but that didn’t mean the shots started to fall. It was a frantic pace but both teams shot under 34 percent and each scored just 12 points. Nebraska still had a four-point advantage heading into the half.
The third quarter echoed much of the second as both teams again shot 34 percent and scored only 10 points each. The Wolverines had one last quarter to erase the constant four-point deficit.
The Cornhuskers came out and stifled the Wolverines on defense, not allowing Flaherty to get off a shot and doubling junior forward Hallie Thome in the post to prevent her from getting going. But, when Nebraska got a seven-point lead with five minutes left, the Michigan leaders began to overcome the tough defense.
Flaherty freed herself up and nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to four. After the shot went down, she turned and mouthed “finally” under her breath. She hit another and it seemed like Michigan was starting to turn the momentum.
“I had people on top of me the whole game I feel like, so it was really hard to get into rhythm,” Flaherty said. “When I hit that, it felt good and then I hit a few more, that was kind of the turning point for me.”
That was until the ball got loose and Nebraska won the scrum and leaked out for a quick layup.
It was then Thome’s turn to score.
With two back-to-back spin moves on Nebraska’s 6-foot-5 center Kate Cain, Thome didn’t celebrate, but rather told her teammates they needed to get back on defense.
“I think that’s what ended up hurting us the most in the end,” Thome said on the team’s transition defense. “We were able to close the gap and then plays like that happened.”
The Wolverines were down by just three with under two minutes to go. That was until Nebraska’s Hannah Whitish rose up from three and hit what Barnes Arico would call “the dagger” to seal the Wolverines fate.
Thome finished with a game-high 21 points and Flaherty scored 17 on 6-of-20 shooting.
Despite the loss, both Flaherty and Barnes Arico are confident in the team’s resume for the selection committee regarding the NCAA Tournament.
“Last year, we were kind of in this position where we had a decent RPI, but they said we didn’t have enough top 50 wins,” Barnes Arico said. “This year, we have three top-25 wins and a 38 RPI. We think we’ve done what we needed to do but now it’s up to seeing what the committee thinks. We can’t count on that until we see what happens next Monday.”
Dylan Wallace is a freelance writer