Feeling rested and enthused after scoring an upset in its final regular-season game, the Michigan women’s basketball team is eager to get the postseason started beginning with the Big Ten tournament this week in Indianapolis.
Michigan (21-8, 10-6 Big Ten) is the No. 6 seed and will play Thursday at 9 p.m. at Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the winner of Wednesday’s Penn State-Illinois game. Penn State was 6-10 in the conference this season, and Illinois was 0-16, and Michigan has beaten both.
Ohio State won the Big Ten regular season and is the No. 1 seed for the second straight year. Michigan State (17-12, 7-9) is the No. 10 seed and will face No. 7 Indiana in a second-round game also on Thursday.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico, whose Wolverines this season have three wins over teams in the top 25 RPI and ended the regular season with a 71-65 win over then-No. 13 Maryland (now ranked No. 17), said her team finally got a chance to catch its breath and rest after a tough stretch of games. The Wolverines had lost four of five games before facing Maryland, including a two-point overtime loss against Purdue, a five-point loss at Michigan State and a six-point loss at Minnesota.
The Wolverines began that stretch ranked No. 13 nationally but dropped out of the poll. In the most recent AP rankings released Monday, they are just out of the top 25, second among teams also receiving votes.
“I’ve been in the league now six years and I think this is the best the league has ever been,” Barnes Arico said Monday on a Big Ten tournament conference call. “The balance has been tremendous. Even playing in the games and watching the games as a fan and a coach, it’s just been some wonderful basketball, some tremendous players, some great basketball games and we’re excited for the Big Ten tournament, because we believe everyone has a chance.
"We’re going in really excited with a lot of energy. We feel like for the first time all year, we’ve had an opportunity to be a rested team. We were one of the teams, probably the only team, that had 15 straight Big Ten games before we got our bye, so within the last week we’ve had an opportunity to get a couple days off and prepare.”
Michigan is led by the all-time leading scorer Katelynn Flaherty, who is averaging 23.5 points a game. The senior this week became the first three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection in program history. Hallie Thome, also voted All-Big Ten first team this week, is averaging 16.7 points, while senior Jillian Dunston, who leads the team averaging 9.2 rebounds and with 49 steals, was voted to the All-Big Ten defensive team.
The Wolverines will be without starting freshman forward Hailey Brown, who suffered a leg injury against Michigan State on Feb. 11 and is not expected to return during the postseason.
This is a team heavy on motivation. After being snubbed by the NCAA Tournament last season, the Wolverines went on to win the WNIT.
They are hopeful to make the NCAA Tournament this year and currently are projected a No. 8 seed by ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme.
“That WNIT, and we talked about it during the course of the year how we had something to prove, we were the third-place team in the Big Ten last year and we thought we had a great resume and we didn’t get selected,” Barnes Arico said. “We talked about how we were going to respond after that.
“I think that’s kind of where we’ve been the last couple weeks of the season. We were in a grind and we were in a part of the schedule, the stretch of the schedule where we didn’t have that bye and we were fatigued and we did get injured, and we had a couple of our starters that were playing through some nagging injuries, we lost a starter, so it’s all about, ‘OK, how are you going to respond to that adversity?’
“We are a team that had to do that when we got selected to the WNIT and our response was to go and win and win the WNIT. That was after having a few days to prepare. Well, we got an opportunity to prepare for Maryland, one of the best teams in the country, and we were successful.
“I think that gave our team the confidence to know, ‘Hey, we hit a little skid, but those games we did lose were one-possession games, and they were against top teams in our league, so let’s regroup, let’s get rested, let’s prepare for Maryland and see what happens.’”
Coaches say it all the time, that any team can win on any day, and Barnes Arico feels that way heading into the Big Ten tournament. She said this is the best the conference has been top to bottom.
With that in mind, Michigan has wins over to the top three seeds, Ohio State, Maryland and Nebraska.
“So we’re going in feeling like we’re a great team,” she said.
BIG TEN WOMEN'S TOURNAMENT
No. 12 Northwestern vs. No. 13 Wisconsin, 1:30 p.m.
No. 11 Penn State vs. No. 14 Illinois, 4 p.m.
No. 8 Purdue vs. No. 9 Rutgers, noon
No. 5 Iowa vs. Northwestern-Wisconsin winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 7 Indiana vs. No. 10 Michigan State, 6:30 p.m.
No. 6 Michigan vs. No. Penn State-Illinois winner, 9 p.m.
No. 1 Ohio State vs. Purdue-Rutgers winner, noon
No. 4 Minnesota vs. Iowa-Northwestern/Wisconsin winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 2 Maryland vs. Indiana-Michigan State winner, 6:30 p.m.
No. 3 Nebraska vs. Michigan-Penn State/Illinois winner, 9 p.m.
Semifinal, 6 p.m. (BTN)
Semifinal, 8:30 p.m. (BTN)
Championship, 7 p.m. (ESPN)