WBB : Michael plays with illness, fades in 2nd half
A day before the biggest game of her life, Nicole Michael sniffled as she stepped up to a bank of cameras and microphones and began to field questions from the local media.
The Syracuse sophomore couldn’t hide the fact she was feeling under the weather, and that an illness had depleted her energy. She had practiced only sparingly the last two days, with a game against Connecticut looming on the third.
But when asked about it, she assured everyone she had no plans of sitting out against the No. 1 team in the country. She promised to find the energy to make it through the game.
‘I just have to play, suck it up,’ Michael said. ‘I’m sure I’ll find some type of energy tomorrow.’
Michael found enough energy for a gutsy, 27-minute performance in her team’s 65-59 loss to UConn in the Carrier Dome last night. She finished with 13 points and six rebounds, much of that in an impressive first-half performance, but the physical contest visibly took its toll on the winded SU forward as the game wound down.
With 17 seconds left and her team down by four, Michael turned the ball over, and on the next possession was blocked during an erratic drive toward the hoop. That proved to be Syracuse’s last possession of the game, and Michael was held scoreless for the final five minutes.
After the game, Syracuse head coach Quentin Hillsman shrugged at the notion that an illness could put a stop to his most experienced player.
‘She’s a competitor, so you know I wasn’t worried about her not feeling good,’ Hillsman said. ‘She didn’t really practice the last two days, so I wasn’t that concerned that she wouldn’t step up and play.’
Michael, SU’s third leading scorer and tied for second in rebounds, seemed to thrive during a first half when she played only 11 minutes. Coming out of a media timeout with 14 minutes left in the half, Michael hit a 3-pointer to give the Orange the lead, 11-10. Less than a minute later, she blocked a shot on the defensive end and immediately drew a foul against UConn’s Ketia Swanier.
The Orange fed off the energy and put together one of its best halves of the season. Syracuse led 36-32 at the break, the first time the Huskies faced a halftime deficit all season.
But as the second half wore on and the game turned into a nail biter, the lead switched hands nine times throughout the game, Michael didn’t have the luxury of taking time off as she did in the first half. She sat only four minutes after the break, and looked visibly tired in the final seconds of the game.
That fatigue led to Michael’s two critical errors – the turnover and the forced shot – in the final minute as SU desperately attempted a comeback.
Michael admitted after the game that she was worn out in the second half, as the contest became more physical. UConn tightened up its defense after halftime, and the result was 13 team fouls for the Huskies in the half and 12 more for Syracuse, after having only four apiece in the opening 20 minutes.
‘I mean it was a pretty intense game, so in the second half it was acceptable that we got a little tired,’ Michael said. ‘It was a little intense.’
After the game, Hillsman said he didn’t think his forward was lagging at the end. Then he thought about it for a second, and decided it made no difference either way.
‘If she was, oh well,’ Hillsman said of Michael being tired. ‘She had to play. She can rest tomorrow, right? Get her some Gatorade or something.’
Michael didn’t know before the game where she would find the energy to compete against the No. 1 team in the country, only that she would find it. And after she did, she still had no idea where it came from.
‘I don’t know,’ Michael said as she shook her head in disbelief. ‘I just went out there and played hard. I just had the confidence that if I keep playing hard, the outcome would be great.’
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