There are any banners hanging in the rafters at Crisler Center, including those for men’s basketball and gymnastics.
Missing: Women’s basketball.
But maybe not for long.
The Michigan women’s basketball team will play Saturday afternoon for its first postseason championship, when it squares off against Georgia Tech at Calihan Hall in the finals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
“It’s very exciting,” star junior guard Katelynn Flaherty said. “Just, you know, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it’s great for our seniors to send them off this way. They’re very deserving of it.”
The tip-off will be at 3 on the campus of Detroit Mercy, because Crisler Center long has been booked by a student group.
Detroit Mercy officials came to the rescue in a short amount of time, after Michigan (27-9) beat Villanova, 65-61, in the semifinals Wednesday night.
Michigan, the highest seed as one of the last teams bumped out of the NCAA Tournament field, had the right to host throughout the WNIT, but faced the possibility of having to travel to Georgia Tech (22-14) for the final.
Instead, Calihan will play host, and Detroit Mercy is offering assistance in the way of official scorers, clock operators and media liaisons.
“It’s been a little bit tricky,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We’re fortunate just to work with incredible people at Michigan. Everyone’s jumping through hoops to do whatever they have to do to make it work. And everyone’s doing a great job. And Detroit’s been very receptive. A lot of work in a short period of time.
“The Michigan people are up to any challenge. This gives us an opportunity to play in our home state, and they’ve come through.”
Detroit Mercy, done hosting basketball games for several weeks, wasn’t prepared to have Calihan Hall set up for basketball this week; as of Friday afternoon, the WNIT decal logo to go at center court hadn’t even arrived.
Televised by CBS Sports Network, staff and on-air talent had to scramble in dealing with alternative logistics.
And Michigan still is in a mad rush to make sure its fans can provide a decent attendance, despite the game being 45 minutes from campus. Michigan is planning buses, and maize T-shirt giveaways. Tickets are $8, and available at the door Saturday. Only cash will be accepted.
“We’re hoping,” said Arico, “for an outstanding crowd.”
Michigan, of course, isn’t unfamiliar with adversity.
The Wolverines were stunned and sickened on Selection Monday, when the NCAA Tournament left them out in the cold, despite finishing in third place in the Big Ten during the regular season.
Upset, and rightly so, they used their anger as motivation, and knocked off one WNIT opponent after another, with, notably, some inspired defense.
Then, midway through the WNIT run, Michigan’s star freshman, Kysre Gondrezick, took an “indefinite” leave from the team for personal reasons. She hasn’t played in the last three games, and won’t play Saturday, either.
“The adversity we faced,” said Flaherty, averaging 20 points a game, “really helped us grow as a team.”
In Georgia Tech, Michigan faces a team it met in Atlanta in December in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Wolverines romped to victory, 92-52.
Don’t be deceived, though, the Wolverines insist. This is a different Georgia Tech team, one that has a very different-looking lineup than in December, and one that’s been tested by a very good conference (even though it went 5-11 in Atlantic Coast play).
Arico is particularly worried about the 50 rebounds Georgia Tech had in its semifinal win over Washington State.
“Which is ridiculous,” she said. “They’re playing extremely well.”
So, too, of course is Michigan, which desperately wanted in the NCAA Tournament, and felt it more than belonged.
It’s been proving that for more than two weeks now, blowing through Kent State, Wright State, St. John’s, Virgnia Tech and Villanova to get here.
That’s a five-game winning streak for the Wolverines, even if it came in the second-tier WNIT, and not the ultimate event, the NCAAs.
Which begs the question: Which would you prefer, a one- or two-and-done in the NCAAs, or a WNIT championship?
“That’s definitely tough,” Flaherty said. “The position we’re in right now is awesome. It kind of speaks for itself, being able to compete for championships against great teams.
“If we were able to win this, it’s a great stepping stone.”
Said Arico, who’s been to five NCAA Tournaments in her career and seven WNITs, including the WNIT Final Four the last three seasons: “The ultimate goal is to try to win an NCAA championship. Any time you get in an NCAA Tournament, you feel you have an opportunity to reach that goal.
“But just to have an opportunity to put a women’s basketball banner up there would be pretty incredible. If we couldn’t win the national championship but have the opportunity to win a banner, I think that’s a special thing.”
Georgia Tech vs. Michigan
Tip-off: 3 Saturday, Calihan Hall, Detroit
TV/radio: CBSSN/live audio stream at MGoBlue.com
Records: Georgia Tech 22-14, Michigan 27-9
Outlook: The teams met earlier in the season, with the Wolverines cruising to a 40-point victory.