Wolverines' slow start, road crowd lead to season-ending defeat

Sunday, March 24, 2019 - 3:45pm

Playing in the home gym of No. 1 seed Louisville, the Michigan women's basketball team fell to the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament.

Playing in the home gym of No. 1 seed Louisville, the Michigan women's basketball team fell to the Cardinals in the NCAA Tournament. Buy this photo
Alexandria Pompei/Daily

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It was never going to be easy.

Playing in front of a crowd of 7,725, the Michigan women’s basketball team knew that it would be a daunting order to defeat the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals, who boast one of the best home-court advantages in all of college basketball. The Wolverines even tried to replicate the raucous environment of the KFC Yum! Center before the game. 

“We practiced yesterday with a speaker and a lot of loud noises,” said senior forward Hallie Thome.

And yet, despite its prep, Michigan was blitzed out of the gate. National Player of the Year candidate Asia Durr scored 12 quick points, and the Wolverines found themselves in a 19-4 hole before the game’s first media timeout. With each basket, the Cardinals’ lead — and cheers from fans — only grew.

Before the season even began, Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico made a point to schedule tough non-conference road games in order to prepare her squad for the road environments it could face if it earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“We’ve tested ourselves against the best teams in the country in hopes for an opportunity like we’re going to have tomorrow,” Barnes Arico said in a press conference on Saturday.

While Michigan had played against hostile road crowds, nothing came close to the atmosphere that the Wolverines were faced with on Sunday afternoon. The crowd’s sheer volume sounded like it could have easily been ripped from a sold-out football stadium.

“We just got shook and rattled,” Barnes Arico said, “It took us a few minutes to get out of that.”

While the Cardinals thrived off of the crowd’s energy, it ended up serving as the catalyst for the Wolverines’ undoing. The team committed five turnovers by the time the first media timeout hit, and struggled to find any offensive rhythm against Louisville’s daunting press. The Wolverines, who had used the press to spearhead its dominant 84-54 win over Kansas State just two days prior, now found its own weapon being used against it.

Though Michigan eventually settled down, cutting Louisville’s lead to 21-15 with eight minutes remaining in the first half, turnover struggles — it finished with 17 in the first half alone — prevented any potential comeback attempts. Once again, the crowd helped play a major role.

“We couldn’t hear … our defensive switches or offensive plays or things like that,” said junior guard Akienreh Johnson.

Despite the loss, there is still plenty of room for optimism as the book closes on the Wolverines’ 2018-19 campaign. Though Michigan will lose Thome and senior forward Nicole Munger, the team will return several of its key contributors, including freshman forward Naz Hillmon and guard Amy Dilk.

“I’m sure that they’re going to watch that film and learn from that experience so they are never in that position again,” Barnes Arico said.

Even in a loss where it may be difficult to find a silver lining, the Wolverines showed fight against one of the toughest home crowds the sport has to offer.  Barnes Arico, despite another second-round loss, says her team will enter the offseason with its heads held high.

“We have a great basketball team,” Barnes Arico said. “Just going up against one of the top teams in the country on their home court is tough and Louisville was great tonight for sure.”