UM 'fired up' for WNIT semis, chance to hang banner

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Center Hallie Thome, middle, has come up huge during Michigan's WNIT run.

It's kind of a weird vibe, really.

Yes, Michigan women's basketball is excited to be playing in a third consecutive National Invitation Tournament semifinal. That ties a record.

Of course, it ties a record because usually during a successful run like that, a team will have made at least one NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013, as much they continue to believe  and show  they deserved a bid this season.

Still, the Wolverines are making the most of the hand they were dealt.

"I mean, I think you know our kids really felt they played themselves into the NCAA Tournament, so I think we were obviously devastated," coach Kim Barnes Arico said. "But in this run, and as this run continues in the WNIT, I think our kids are getting more and more excited about the opportunity to hang a banner.

"And do something that's never been done before (here)."

Michigan (26-9) will host Villanova (20-14), Arico's old rival in the Big East, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Crisler Center.

The winner moves on to Saturday's 3 p.m. championship game to face the winner of Washington State and Georgia Tech. Michigan would be in line to host that game, too, but there are logistical conflicts that might force the Wolverines to play on the road.

That's still being worked out, and depends on Wednesday's result anyway.

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

Michigan, while making three WNIT Final Fours in a row, hasn't made a title game.

"Everybody's really excited, great energy, great excitement," Arico said. "Everyone's really fired up."

And the fact that the Wolverines have continued their strong play  especially with some excellent stretches of lockdown defense  despite the distraction of 2016 Miss Michigan basketball Kysre Gondrezick taking a leave of absence last week because of "personal" reasons has made Arico proud.

In the two games in Gondrezick's absence, Michigan limited St. John's to 10 second-half points and Virginia Tech to nine points in the second quarter.

It's been the usual suspects, including the play of junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who surpassed 700 points for a second consecutive season, and sophomore center Hallie Thome, who's already reached the 1,000-point plateau in her career.

Arico also has been impressed with "sparks" provided by senior Danielle Williams, junior Jillian Dunston and freshman Kayla Robbins.

"I think they're really resilient. They've really continued to grow as a program," Arico said. "Our chemistry seems to be getting better and better.

"Some of my proudest moments as a coach are the way our team has rallied through this last month of the season and really kind of played for the seniors, and playing to do some things that haven't been done here before."

In Villanova, Michigan gets a team that is known for its defense and its 3-point shooting. Almost half the Wildcats' shots are from 3-point range, where they shoot 30.3 percent. They are led by Alex Louin, who averages 13.1 points, and Adrianna Hahn, who averages 12.6.

Villanova at Michigan

What: WNIT semifinal

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

Records: Villanova 20-14, Michigan 26-9

TV/radio: BTN+/live audio stream at

At stake: A spot in WNIT championship game (Saturday, 3 p.m.) against Washington State-Georgia Tech winner at a campus site to be determined.

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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