No. 6 seed Michigan women open NCAAs vs. 3-point-happy Florida Gulf Coast

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

They had to wait a while to hear their name called, but the Michigan women’s basketball team is heading to the NCAA Tournament as a program-best No. 6 seed.

The bracket was revealed Monday night, and has Michigan (14-5) facing No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast (26-2) in a first-round game at 3 p.m. Sunday. The winner advances to face the winner of No. 3 Tennessee (16-7) and No. 14 Middle Tennessee State (17-7).

Tournament play begins Sunday and culminates with the title game April 4. All games will be played in the San Antonio area, and the Wolverines are in the River Walk Region.

Michigan forward Naz Hillmon

This is the fourth NCAA Tournament appearance under head coach Kim Barnes Arico, in her ninth season. She led the Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament second round their last two appearances, in 2018 (Michigan was a No. 7 seed, its previous best) and 2019, after winning the NIT in 2017. She also led the team to the NCAA Tournament in 2013. The 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is Michigan’s nine NCAA Tournament appearance in program history and it's 5-8 overall, with first-round victories in 1990, 2001, 2013, 2018 and 2019.

“Super excited about the opportunity to be back in the tournament, about the opportunity to be playing an NCAA Tournament after last season when it was canceled,” Barnes Arico told reporters Monday night. “For our team, a lot of them, this is their first opportunity to play.

"With the kind of year we’ve had with the pauses, and pivoting and changing direction and not sure where things were going to head, we’re all just thrilled we’re gonna have the opportunity to still compete and we are having the NCAA Tournament.”

The Wolverines, who appeared in every Associated Press top-25 poll this season for the first time in history, finished No. 16 in the final poll released Monday. That’s the second time the program has finished in the final poll — Michigan was No. 25 in 2000.

Michigan is coming off a 65-49 quarterfinal loss to Northwestern last week in the Big Ten Tournament, five days after beating the Wildcats in the regular-season finale.

Junior Naz Hillmon, last week named the Big Ten’s player of the year, leads the team averaging 25.1 points and 11.4 rebounds while averaging 33.2 minutes. Hillmon had 26 points, 12 rebounds in the Big Ten Tournament loss, her 13th double-double of the season. That was her 16th 20-point season of the year.

Leigha Brown is averaging 16.9 points and Akienreh Johnson is averaging 10.8 points and 6.3 rebounds heading into the tournament.

Florida Gulf Coast is making its seventh NCAA appearance in 10 years under coach Karl Smesko, in his 19th season there. The Eagles earned an automatic bid by winning the ASUN Tournament led by Ohio State transfer Kierstan Bell, who scored 30 points in the championship game and was named tournament MVP. Bell, a three-time Ms. Ohio Basketball recipient, leads the team in scoring, averaging 24 points, and rebounding with a 10.9 average.

The Eagles have attempted a whopping 1,000 3-pointers and made 334. Their opponents were 112-of-442 from the 3-point line this season.

“Florida Gulf Coast, regardless of who they had on their team, I knew would be an incredibly difficult opponent,” Barnes Arico said. “They shoot a ton of 3s, they spread you out. It’s hard for your post players to play because you’re guarding guards. They’re five guards, they shoot 3s, they try to take you off the dribble. It’s a tough matchup for anyone. They definitely have their style and their system.”

We're running a new-subscriber special. Support local journalism, and subscribe here.

No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida Gulf Coast

Tip-off: 3 Sunday, Convocation Center, San Antonio


Records: Michigan 14-5; Florida Gulf Coast 26-2.

Scouting Michigan: Head coach — Kim Barnes Arico, ninth season, 191-101. Leaders — Points, Naz Hillmon, 25.1; Rebounds, Hillmon, 11.4; Assists, Amy Dilk, 3.9

Scouting Florida Gulf Coast: Head coach — Karl Smesko, 19th season, 519-97. Leaders — Points, Kierstan Bell, 24.0; Rebounds, Bell 10.9; Assists, Tishara Morehouse, 3.7

Twitter: @chengelis