Against No. 13 Maryland, Michigan has one last chance

Wednesday, February 21, 2018 - 7:15pm

Michigan has a big chance to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume.

Michigan has a big chance to bolster its NCAA Tournament resume. Buy this photo
Ruchita Iyer/Daily

Crisler Center is having senior night Thursday, as the Michigan women’s basketball team (9-6 Big Ten, 20-8 overall) takes on No. 13 Maryland (11-3, 22-5).

It will be the last home game for senior guard Katelynn Flaherty and senior forward Jillian Dunston. The matchup is best described by rapper Eminem’s Academy Award-winning song “Lose Yourself.”

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity

To seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment

Would you capture it or just let it slip? Yo!

This is the Wolverines’ last chance to end the regular season on a positive note. They excelled at the start of the year and even reached No. 13 in the national rankings.

Michigan looked destined to make the NCAA Tournament early on. The team found multiple successes — including a road victory over then-No. 8 Ohio State — and was projected by ESPN to be a four seed in the Tournament in late January.

But things have taken a change of course since then. Michigan has lost four out of its last five contests, falling to Purdue, Rutgers, Michigan State and Minnesota — all opponents the Wolverines were expected to defeat.

Because of yet another end-of-season collapse, the Wolverines find themselves on the bubble, and the game against the Terrapins is their last shot during the regular season to secure a spot.

Snap back to reality, oh, there goes gravity

The way things are going, Michigan could very well be disappointed come post season. If the Wolverines fail to make the NCAA Tournament it would indeed be a Snap back to reality — the reality being that coach Kim Barnes Arico’s squad hasn’t qualified for the tournament since 2013.

He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready

It makes sense for Michigan to be nervous. The offense has been unsteady during this rough stretch. Turnovers have been a problem all season, due to sloppy passes. In the upsets against the Scarlet Knights and the Spartans, the Wolverines committed 26 and 23 turnovers, respectively. And while Michigan had 16 turnovers in the recent loss against the Golden Gophers — less than the season average of 16.5 — they still came at the wrong time to the team’s detriment.

Last season, Maryland won the Big Ten Tournament, reached the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 32-3 record. Though guards Kaila Charles and Kristen Confroy are their only returning starters, the Terrapins have continued to thrive this year.

“Maryland is a tremendous team,” Barnes Arico told WTKA.

Maryland is tied with the Buckeyes for first in the conference. The Terrapins have the highest scoring margin in the conference and are led by Charles, who averages 17.8 points.

“(She’s) just a great scorer around the rim,” Barnes Arico said. “Can face up, can play with her back to the basket.”

Sophomore guard Blair Watson and junior forward Eleanna Christinaki are also major contributors who average 13.8 and 13.5 points, respectively.

Christinaki — who is from Athens, Greece — transferred from Florida. She became eligible to compete midway through December.

“She’s just a shooter, shooter, shooter, shooter, shooter,” Barnes Arico said.

Freshman forward Hailey Brown sustained a leg injury in the loss to Michigan State and has been out ever since. She has been a starter all season, so her absence could cause the Wolverines to be even more nervous.

“We don’t think we’re probably gonna get her back this season, which is tough,” Barnes Arico said. “I mean, she’s a freshman for us that has had an outstanding, outstanding year. Was really kinda coming into her own here late in the season, playing with a lot of confidence.

“Nothing is torn, so really positive, positive news, but with the end of the season, in the next month — month and a half — she’s probably not gonna be able to return. So that’s tough.”

But the Terrapins have struggled recently too. Having lost to Purdue and Minnesota, they are now on a two-game losing streak. In a sense, Michigan is trying to keep calm and ready because of this, and wants to capitalize.

“They’re a team that’s kinda on a tough stretch right now too,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re beatable, and I think that’s what’s exciting, coming into this game.”

Maryland appears to have the upper hand, but the game is still critical for the Wolverines. Flaherty and Dunston have never been to the NCAA Tournament, so it will be interesting to see if they can make the most out of senior night by securing a spot.

Because after all, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo.