Defense fails Michigan in 88-67 loss to Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Michigan finally ended a decade-long drought and made it into the NCAA women’s tournament on the strength of the Big Ten’s best defense.
Then 5-foot-7 Aaryn Ellenberg and Oklahoma tore it all apart to send the Wolverines right back home.
Ellenberg scored 21 of her 28 points in the second half, Morgan Hook added 13 points and Oklahoma defeated Michigan 88-67 Sunday night to move on in the Fresno Regional.
The Sooners’ output amounted to 10 more points than anyone else had scored on Michigan (20-13) all season long.
“It’s the Big Dance. Everyone’s going to come out and be competitive and want to win,” said Carmen Reynolds, who led the Wolverines with 20 points.
“They were hitting shots, they were feeling it. We didn’t stop them.”
Michigan, which hadn’t made the tournament since 2001 and squeaked in as one of the last three teams in the bracket, had been allowing only 58 points and forcing 17 turnovers per game.
The Sooners surpassed the 58-point mark with more than 13 minutes remaining and matched their season low with eight turnovers. They had been averaging 17 giveaways per game and had at least 20 in 10 games this season.
Instead, it was the Wolverines who turned it over 11 times in the first half to negate a 56-percent shooting performance as they fell behind 48-36.
“We were shooting the same percentage they were in the first half and we had (11) turnovers and they were unforced,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said. “It wasn’t like they were stealing the ball from us, picking our pocket. We just made some bad passes.
“We don’t turn the ball over (11) times in the first half and it changes the dynamics of that game.”
Playing on their home court, the sixth-seeded Sooners (21-12) took control with an early 14-4 run and never trailed. Oklahoma built a 12-point lead in the first 8 minutes and had the same cushion at halftime before holding the Wolverines to one basket over the first 5½ minutes.
Ellenberg, who had been limited to 7 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, then made up for lost time by scoring 13 of Oklahoma’s first 14 points in the second half. Her jumper off an inbounds pass extended the Sooners’ lead to 57-38 with 14:33 remaining.
Michigan never got any closer than eight after that. The Sooners advanced to play No. 3 seed St. John’s on Tuesday night.
“I sat a lot of the first half, so I saw how much fun they were having. I really wanted to be part of the action. That was pretty much my main goal,” Ellenberg said.
“They were having so much fun, I wanted to be out there. I hate not being out there.”
Ellenberg hit a 3-pointer, two jumpers and a free throw during Michigan’s dry spell to start the second half and afterward acted as if her second-best scoring performance of the season was no big deal.
It was exactly what Oklahoma had been missing during a three-week stretch when Ellenberg made only 16 of 75 shots (21 percent) and had five of her seven single-digit scoring outings.
“That’s Vegas. She’s casual Sally,” said Sooners coach Sherri Coale, referring to her top scorer from Las Vegas. “She makes it look effortless and she’ll make you think that she’s kind of just along for the ride. She really cares, it really matters to her and she came to play tonight. It was obvious.”
Reserve Kate Thompson added 15 points and Courtney Boylan scored 12 for the Wolverines, the seventh team to make the tournament out of the Big Ten. Michigan’s leading scorer, Rachel Sheffer, had only three points — 11 below her average — in a season-low 14 minutes.
Borseth said he thought backup Sam Arnold was playing better on offense and defense, so he went with her instead. Arnold had 11 points, reaching double digits for only the sixth time.
“Sam played really well and we really haven’t utilized those two together very much this year. Probably something we maybe should have explored,” Borseth said.
“That’s what my mother has told me. My 86-year-old mother has been telling me that for two years, that the two of them should play together. Maybe I should listen to her.”
Arnold hit a 3-pointer to start Michigan’s attempt at a second-half rally, and Reynolds hit three of her own to get the Wolverines back within 66-58.
“We’re back in the game at that point. They miss a basket, we make a basket and you’re right back in it, obviously,” Borseth said.
Instead, Ellenberg added two more 3-pointers down the stretch as Oklahoma rebuilt its lead and then closed it out by scoring the final eight points.
Whitney Hand chipped in 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Kaylon Williams and Nicole Griffin scored 10 apiece as the Sooners moved to 8-1 when playing on their home court in the NCAA tournament.
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