The last time the Michigan women’s basketball team played Michigan State, Feb. 4, the Wolverines struggled, posting their second-lowest shooting percentage from the field at 32.1 percent.
While the men’s basketball team has won three out of its last five games against the Spartans, the women’s team cannot claim such success. In fact, the Wolverines (7-4 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) haven’t won in East Lansing since Jan. 25, 2001 and haven’t won at home against the Michigan State since Jan. 13, 2008.
After falling 61-46 earlier this month, it was no surprise that a handful of postgame press conference questions circled around the lopsided rivalry that has persisted over the past decade in favor of the Spartans.
“Michigan State is a program that sets the bar, obviously, in the state of Michigan,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They have a great fan base, a great following, a great program, a rich tradition and they win.”
The loss, which pushed Michigan’s then-season-high losing streak to three games, revealed a lot about the Wolverines. For one, it showed the pressure and understanding surrounding the rivalry to Barnes Arico.
“(Michigan State) is clearly the program that I look at and a program that’s done a tremendous job in our state, and you know, that’s something we’re striving for,” Barnes Arico said. “At my press conference, that (was) something we talked about. We’ve lost to them (coming into the season) 11 straight times, and this is really an important game for us.”
For the first-year coach, facing teams with long winning streaks and ultimately stopping them, is something she is associated with.
On Feb. 18, 2012, Barnes Arico and St. John’s halted Connecticut’s 99-game home winning streak with a 57-56 victory at the Harry A. Gampel Pavilion.
In addition, St. John’s became just the fifth team to win at the Huskies since 1993, which explains why Barnes Arico puts so much stress on her newly adapted in-state rivalry.
“Your first day on the job and people are making these statements, it made me appreciate how important this rivalry is,” Barnes Arico said. “I think it’s really important to the kids, the state, the community, just everyone. For our program and our seniors, and our program when they came in, to where it was to where it is now, we have significantly, significantly improved and the culture of the program has dramatically changed.”
Following the loss to Michigan State, the Wolverines have won two straight games, including a signature 67-56 victory against then-No. 13 Purdue in West Lafayette.
Another streak snapped: Michigan hadn’t beaten the Boilermakers at Mackey Arena since Feb. 8, 1998.
“We just got back to playing together and more as a unit,” said senior forward Kate Thompson. “We had everybody playing at their best and contributing.”
The win marked the Wolverines’ first victory over a ranked opponent this season as well, and in the long run, especially in consideration for NCAA seeding, it could mean a lot.
“I think it is a tremendous win for us,” Barnes Arico said. “I think it is a great win, in terms of the NCAA Tournament too. This is like a super-quality win. People don’t come in here and win at Purdue. For us to be able to come in here and do that, especially after beating Illinois, and follow it up with this win, it says a lot about our program and where we are now. I think it is a great win, it is a quality win — it is an NCAA win for sure.”
For Michigan to have the chance to make history against Michigan State on Saturday, such consistent play will be necessary. And for the Wolverines to continue their positioning for the NCAA and Big Ten Tournament, another streak must be snapped.