In WNIT, UM women out to prove NCAAs 'made a mistake'

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

A little less than a week ago, Kim Barnes Arico had two things on her mind.

One was the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The other was a series of phone calls she rattled off to NCAA Selection Committee members, who she believed deserved a piece of her mind.

After all, the Wolverines, who finished in third place along in the Big Ten, were shut out of the NCAAs.

“Obviously, I made a bunch of calls,” she said. “I was very upset about that.

“I thought I owed it to our players and program to at least speak on behalf of our total body of work.

“The NCAA Committee could not see that, that was really disappointing. But I just wanted to get that out there.”

After that, Michigan went back to work, preparing for the WNIT — and on Saturday, it beat Wright State, 71-66, at Crisler Center to advance to the third round for the third consecutive year.

The last two years, Michigan made the WNIT Final Four.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 71, Wright State 66

It will play the winner of Sunday’s Harvard-St. John’s game at Crisler next week, possibly Thursday, though the time and date won’t be announced until Sunday.

Interestingly, if St. John’s wins, it would pit Barnes Arico against the team she coached from 2002-12, before taking the Michigan job.

She took St. John’s to the NCAAs four times, including her last three years, before taking Michigan to the NCAAs her first year. The Wolverines haven’t been back since, though they sure felt like they deserved it this year — and are on a mission to prove it in the WNIT, where, with two wins, they now have a program-best 24 victories.

“I think that was the biggest takeaway from Monday night (Selection Monday) when we didn’t get selected. Our kids felt like they put themselves in a position all year with the schedule we played, being in the top 25 until March 1, finishing third outright in the Big Ten Conference,” Barnes Arico said. “We thought we played ourselves into the NCAA Tournament. Our kids were pretty devastated.

“Now their philosophy has been, ‘We are gonna prove to the NCAA Committee that they made a mistake.”

Often times, it can work have the reverse effect — when an NCAA snub leads to WNIT apathy.

That hasn’t been the case for the Wolverines, who, as a No. 1 seed, can keep playing at Crisler as long as they keep on winning.

“I was really nervous about that,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ve gone to the NIT the last few years, and (the NCAAs) really had been a goal of ours.

“I thought they be blown out by that (snub), and not able to respond. But they talk about that ability to put on that Michigan uniform again, and for our seniors to have the opportunity to play again at Crisler. It’s an honor.

“They take advantage of that, instead of living off the disappointment. It’s a life lesson, how you respond when you weren’t dealt the hand you thought you were going to be dealt.”

Sophomore center Hallie Thome led Michigan with 23 points on 10-for-15 shooting Saturday, while junior guard Jillian Dunston had 11 rebounds.

Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty scored 15 and freshman Kysre Gondrezick 14.

Michigan led by 13 at the half, but Wright State made a second-half push, just as Kent State did in the opening-round loss to the Wolverines.

Michigan’s defense stepped up late, especially senior guard Siera Thompson. Wright State made one field goal in approximately the final five minutes.

Now, Thompson gets to keep playing ballgames, even if it’s in the WNIT — and not in the NCAAs, as Barnes Arico and the Wolverines so clearly believe was their postseason tournament to play in.

“We scheduled the right way,” said Barnes Arico, who was told, among other things, by the Selection Committee the RPIs of a down Big Ten cost the Wolverines in the end. “We knew we couldn’t change anything. But they needed to hear (from me.)”