And just like that, the Wolverines are back on track.
The Michigan women’s basketball team got off to its best start in program history this season. But after starting 4-0 in conference play, things began to falter and the Wolverines (7-4 Big Ten, 18-6 overall) lost four of five games.
A bounce-back 72-69 win last Thursday against Illinois was huge, but Michigan’s 67-56 win on Sunday at then-No. 13 Purdue was even bigger.
“People don’t come in here and win at Purdue,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico then. “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.”
Senior forward Kate Thompson led the way and finally busted out of a long shooting slump, hitting six 3-pointers against the Boilermakers. She now has the program record for 3-pointers in a season with 91. The Wolverines’ win over Purdue was their first victory over a ranked opponent this season, and it has given them a lot of confidence.
But now it’s time for Michigan to face Michigan State (7-4, 19-5). Again. Only 12 days have passed since these two teams squared off in East Lansing, and yet, this Michigan squad is very different.
“We just got back to playing together more as a unit,” Thompson said. “We have to bring that (intensity) against (the Spartans).”
Added senior forward Nya Jordan: “We just need to be ready to play. I think our last Michigan State game we weren’t ready to play, so if we can use the same energy we had in (the Purdue) game and carry it over to the Michigan State game, we’ll definitely win that game.”
Last time these two teams met, the Wolverines were held to 32.1-percent shooting and went just 3-for-20 from beyond the arc. Jordan was the lone bright spot for Michigan, recording a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The same five starters for the Wolverines will be on the floor as last time, but this time, Michigan hopes the 3-pointers will fall for Thompson. The plan says senior guard Jenny Ryan will make the extra pass, and senior center Rachel Sheffer will hit the low post shots.
It’s been five years since the Wolverines have topped the Spartans in Ann Arbor, and they have dropped 20 of their last 21 contests against them.
“We always talk about playing with emotion, but not emotionally,” Barnes Arico said. “Sometimes against Michigan State I think we get caught up a little bit. We’ve got to make sure we’ve not looking at the front of their jerseys and just make sure we’re looking to improve on the last two games and be prepared for Saturday.”
In a season filled of program bests, it’s the perfect opportunity for Michigan to add some heat to a rivalry that has been very one-sided. The Wolverines are coming off their longest break this season, having last played six days ago. Meanwhile, the Spartans played Indiana on Wednesday.
“Michigan State is just a very talented team,” Thompson said. “They play good defense, and offensively, they have so many threats. It’s going to be huge to come out strong against them.”
Junior guard Klarissa Bell, who averages 11.8 points and six rebounds per game, leads the Spartans. After Bell, Michigan State does not have any other double-digit scorers, but it has six players that average more than seven points each.
“(This) is going to be a huge game for us,” Thompson said. “We really need to take (this) one. It’s going to be at home, so it’s going to be good to play in front of our home crowd again.”