After making the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in 10 years, expectations were high for the Michigan women’s basketball team for the current year.
The Wolverines (8-4 Big Ten, 19-6 overall) were coming off a 20-win season, and five seniors, including four current starters would be returning.
Then on April 4, 2012, then-head coach Kevin Borseth resigned, and accepted the same position at Wisconsin-Green Bay – the school he had previously coached at for nine seasons before his five-year stint in Ann Arbor.
Two weeks later, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon announced the hiring of Kim Barnes Arico as the ninth coach in program history.
“Kim is an elite coach that will help elevate our women’s basketball program to new heights,” Brandon said in a press release on April 20. “Kim has been successful at every coaching stop and has built teams that compete for championships. She is a tireless recruiter who will accomplish great things at Michigan.
“We are extremely happy that Kim and her family chose to join Michigan athletics."
These assertions made by Brandon were true – Barnes Arico had led her former school, St. John’s, to seven postseason appearances, which included four NCAA Tournament appearances and three WNIT appearances in her 10 years there. Her time at St. John’s ended with the Red Storm making the Sweet 16.
At Barnes Arico’s introductory press conference on April 23, 2012, Brandon continued his approval of the hire of Barnes Arico with his opening statement that spoke of the potential success for the program.
“We can put a lot more fans in the seats, we can create a lot more energy around it, and we can be even more competitive than we’ve been in the last few years,” Brandon said.
Such was the case on Saturday, as Michigan played in front of its largest home crowd of the regular season – 5,800 people.
Following losses at home earlier in the season against Duke and Penn State, Saturday’s matchup against Michigan State was Michigan’s toughest home battle in a month.
After suffering 12 losses in a row to the Spartans, Saturday marked the last chance Michigan’s senior class would have to dethrone the heir to the state of Michigan women’s basketball.
The team had suffered a brutal 61-46 loss to Michigan State just two weeks prior, and a win on Saturday would go perfectly with the weekend-long festivities of rededicating the Crisler Center.
In the time between Michigan’s two games against the Spartans, the Wolverines beat Illinois at home and then-No. 13 Purdue in West Lafayette.
It was sometime in between those two games that Brandon once again had words to describe Barnes Arico and her team.
However, this time they weren’t in a press conference or through a press release – they were in a closed-door conversation between the pair.
“It was really exciting because he has a lot of faith in our team and he had said to me after a recent win, ‘We’re going to get Michigan State and when we get Michigan State, we’re going to celebrate,’ ” she said. “In my mind, that felt really good when he said that at the time. I felt really good about Michigan State coming here, but of course as a coach you would never say that.
“But he’s been tremendous, extremely supportive. He’s really trying to support our program to get the type of backing that Michigan State’s program gets.”
Meanwhile the crowd at Crisler Center got to see a very public display of affection by Brandon on Saturday when he bear-hugged Barnes Arico as the rest of Michigan’s bench erupted in giddiness after upending the Spartans.
“Yeah, he even lifted me off the ground,” Barnes Arico said regarding the hug. “Good thing I didn’t eat much today.”
While Barnes Arico might have gone hungry because of the butterflies in her stomach for the game, the outcome of the game produced yet another milestone for Michigan’s program and the people involved in it from top to bottom.
“I think it’s been a season of things that haven’t been done for a long time or a season of firsts, but this for our University, and the players in the program, and for me and for Dave Brandon as well is really special,” Barnes Arico said.