In an early season match up between two NCAA tournament caliber teams in recent years, Michigan coach Kevin Borseth summed it up best in Michigan’s 55-50 win over Utah, “it was a struggle for both teams because it was really a slugfest.”
In boxing, many of its savants will say “that styles make fights.” Well in Michigan’s victory over Utah, it felt like a bout between two defensive fighters. Both teams did a lot of jabbing and counter-punching throughout the game but neither was able to land a definitive knockout blow.
From the outset both teams were stagnant offensively as their defenses suffocated one another, it was like seeing a frustrated pugilist going against Floyd Mayweather. So much so that there was about a five minute window in the first half where neither team could score a basket while the score stayed 8-6.
“Very good win, obviously, against a very good team,” said Borseth. “We played extremely well defensively. We obviously didn't shoot very well, but we beat a very good team.”
Much of Michigan‘s struggles had to do with Utah’s 6’3” heavyweight, Taryn Wicijowski as she started asserting her dominance in the paint. With 12:16 left in the first half, Wicijowski entered back in the game for the Utes and it immediately paid dividends. Her physicality not only limited Michigan’s post play but she was able to assert her offensive will. She ended the first half with 10 points and 6 rebounds while 5 of those rebounds were offensive. .
“At the end of the first half, it [defensive pressure] really kept us in it a little bit because if you give them free looks and they can get it inside to number 11 [Wicijowski], she's a handful down low, both offensively and defensively.”
But like with any Borseth coached team, Michigan came out with more intensity in the second half. They started fighting back and countered Utah’s physical style by using it‘s deceptive speed on defense. Michigan started to double team the post and exerted more ball pressure on Utah’s perimeter players. That adjustment by Borseth negated the huge post advantage held by Utah and thus it helped Michigan seize control of a game.
“We knew 15 [Michelle Plouffe] was good, we did,” said Borseth. “We tried to keep as much pressure on their perimeter kids as we could to try to keep it out of the other kid's hands.”
With Michigan starting to seize momentum early in the second half, Utah’s explosive guard, Janita Badon started to take over. Whether it was penetration off of a high ball screen, getting into the lane or creating open shots for her teammates, Badon seemingly became the offense for Utah. She literally became a one woman show as she weaved through the defense of Michigan.
“Our ball screens were working for us, she is able to get into the paint,” said Utah coach Anthony Levrets. “And she’s a senior point guard who’s started for four years and usually makes greats decisions. She’s a tough kid and we trust her with the ball in her hand most of the time.”
But just like with any fighter, Michigan was able to withstand Utah’s late flurry and get the victory in the end.
"Number one [Badon] was tough. That was the one we couldn't deal with,” said Borseth. It wasn't until we put Jenny Ryan on her at the end of the game and Jenny picked her two or three times in a row, that the game really turned in our favor.”
Top Performers for Michigan:
- Kate Thompson, 17 points, 5-10 from the field (50%)
- Carmen Reynolds, 12 points
- Courtney Boylan, 11 points
Top Performers for Utah:
- Janita Badon, 18 points, 11 rebounds
- Taryn Wicijowski, 16 points, 12 rebounds, 7-13 from the field (54%)