UM 'comes together' amid adversity, makes WNIT Final Four

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Siera Thompson

Surely, the Michigan women's basketball team would rather have made the NCAA Tournament. It certainly believed that's where it belonged.

But the Wolverines still see it as an accomplishment that they're still playing basketball in late March, having advanced Saturday to the Final Four of the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

Michigan beat Virginia Tech, 80-62, to advance to the WNIT Final Four for a third consecutive year.

That ties a WNIT record, set by Illinois State, which made three straight from 2009-11.

Michigan has yet to advance to the championship game. It next will play Villanova (20-14), a 69-57 winner Sunday over Indiana (23-11), which lost for just the third time at home all season.

"I think us and Indiana were NCAA Tournament teams," said coach Kim Barnes Arico, "that are really playing to prove something right now."

Michigan and Villanova will play at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Crisler Center, with the WNIT championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday.

What's been most impressive about the Wolverines' late-season surge: The last two games, it won running away, despite the absence of star freshman Kysre Gondrezick, last year's Miss Basketball, who has taken a leave of absence from the team for personal reasons.

There's no word when or if Gondrezick will return to the team. She averaged more than 15 points this season. Gondrezick played in the first two games of the WNIT.

"We just have to come together," said junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who scored 29 Saturday, giving her 701 points on the season -- for the program's second 700-point season ever (she had the other one, too). "Through times of adversity, whether it's this situation or other situations throughout the year, we're used to certain things not going our way.

"I think we're just feeding off of each other and off of the positivity our coaches are bringing every day."

Flaherty had all seven of Michigan's 3-pointers in the win, while sophomore center Hallie Thome scored 27.

Senior guard Siera Thompson, meanwhile, became the program's all-time leader in assists, with 540. Teammates rave about Thompson's work ethic.

"It's funny, because say if we had practice tomorrow, we'd come in and people would be really tired," Flaherty said. "We'd ask Siera if she was tired, and she'd say no. That's just kind of how she's been. She's played 40 minutes since she's been here. She's always in the gym working out, and she's always on the floor playing hard."

Michigan (26-9) has used impressive stretches of defense to win its last two games, holding Virginia Tech to nine second-quarter points in starting to separate itself Saturday, and holding St. John's to 10 second-half points in winning the game before.

This will be the Wolverines' fourth WNIT Final Four, having also made it in 2010. The tournament began in 1998.

Michigan vs. Villanova

What: WNIT semifinal

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

At stake: Spot in WNIT championship game (Saturday, 1 p.m.) against Washington State-Georgia Tech winner