The Michigan women’s basketball team is the hottest in the Big Ten.
Winners of three straight, including a road victory over then-No. 13 Purdue for the first time since 1998 and a win over Michigan State for the first time in five years, the Wolverines are playing their best basketball of the season. Actually, they’re playing some of their best basketball ever.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
With four conference games remaining, Michigan (8-4 Big Ten, 19-6 overall) is in the home stretch of its Big Ten season, and it’s heating up again just in time for the NCAA Tournament. Last year, the Wolverines had to cross their fingers and pray they’d be selected to join the dance in March, but if the season were to end today, they’d be a lock — no praying necessary.
Currently, Michigan sits tied for third place in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have the same conference record as Purdue and Illinois, but they recently beat both teams during their three-game win streak.
RYAN LEADS THE PACK: Leading the way during Michigan’s hot streak is senior guard Jenny Ryan, who was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday — the first time in her career that she’s won the honor.
“Jenny is a really emotional kid, and I was worried about her (before the Michigan State game),” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I kept telling her to relax, but I also told her before the game she was going to have to score, and golly, she did.”
Against the Spartans on Saturday, Ryan had a career-best 24 points on 7-for-16 shooting, while also adding eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. Most importantly, Ryan hit four free throws in the final 17 seconds to seal the win.
For Ryan, however, the stat that stood above the rest was her zero turnovers. The guard averages 2.9 turnovers per game.
“That’s unusual for me,” Ryan said. “People were setting good screens, coach Barnes Arico really came up with a great game plan to find me on comfortable spots on the floor and passes that were comfortable for me.”
Ryan has been the leader of this team from day one, and now it’s showing on the stat sheet.
“I’ve coached a lot of really good point guards in my career as a coach and she leads the pack just because of everything she does,” Barnes Arico said.
BRUTAL FINAL STRETCH: The Wolverines have entered the home stretch of their brutal conference schedule. Michigan is within striking distance of the top Big Ten spot, and it plays the top two teams in the Big Ten in the next five days.
First up, at home on Thursday, is No. 24 Nebraska (9-3, 19-6), which sits in second place in the conference, followed by a visit to No. 7 Penn State (11-1, 21-3) on Sunday. The Wolverines lost to the Lady Lions earlier this season in a close 59-49 matchup at Crisler Center.
The loss to Penn State was the beginning of a slump during which Michigan lost four of five, which nearly kicked it out of Big Ten title contention.
After those two tough games, the Wolverines play their final home game against Northwestern on Feb. 28, before ending on the road against Ohio State on March 3.
If Michigan can come away with a victory against one of its two remaining ranked opponents, the Wolverines will set themselves up for a serious run at the Big Ten title before heading into the madness of March.