Hunter Sharf: Kim Barnes Arico’s Achilles Heel
It’s been a week of ups and downs for Kim Barnes Arico.
The juxtaposition of the Michigan women’s basketball coach’s week was clearest on Sunday. Prior to the game against No. 10 Ohio State, Barnes Arico was awarded a jersey with the number 124; this recognized her becoming the program’s winningest coach a few days earlier against Wisconsin.
Over the next few hours, the Wolverines lost a back-and-forth overtime game to the Buckeyes. To throw salt in the wound, the teams traded the lead nine times in the fourth quarter alone, and Michigan held a two-point lead with under 20 seconds to go.
“I’m really super bummed we came out on the short side of it,” Barnes Arico said. “We had every opportunity down the stretch to win that game.”
Yes, it was close and Michigan played well, but they lost to the Buckeyes.
Despite her overall success in Ann Arbor, she’s struggled to beat her rival from Columbus. She is 2-6 all-time against Ohio State and has lost her last four matchups.
And for better or worse, when you coach at Michigan, everyone from Jim Harbaugh to Barnes Arico is judged on rivalry games.
Unfortunately for Barnes Arico, she’s struggled in these matchups.
Her lack of success against school rivals isn’t exclusive to Ohio State. When looking at her career against Michigan State, it’s not much better.
The Wolverines have won just three of their 14 matchups against the Spartans, boasting a .272 win percentage. The last time a Barnes Arico team beat a Buckeye or Michigan State squad was February 2015.
In total, 14 of her 67 career loses – or nearly 21 percent – have come to either MSU or OSU.
And recent matchups have been no different. Michigan has also lost its last four bouts to the Spartans.
The Wolverines should be at least somewhat optimistic, though, going into their next matchup against Michigan State as the Spartans lost their all-time leading scorer in Tori Jankoska to the WNBA.
Still, nobody on the current Wolverine roster has much experience defeating a rival. The only players to have beaten the Spartans and Ohio State are seniors Katelynn Flaherty and Jillian Dunston – and those wins came three years ago, when the duo were freshman.
Despite the school's and fan base's history of emphasizing rivalry games, should Barnes Arico be judged for faltering in these games?
No. Well, at least not yet.
In a little over five years, Barnes Arico turned a rather average team into a constant in the national rankings. In the year prior to Barnes Arico coming to Michigan, the Wolverines finished seventh in the Big Ten. Last season, they finished third. She not only has the most wins in program history, but also the best winning percentage at .649.
Oh yeah, and she was able to do something no other coach in program history has ever done ‚— raise a banner in the Crisler Center after a title in the 2017 WNIT.
Her struggles against the rivals shouldn’t be completely overlooked. But when considering that those two teams are Michigan State and the Buckeyes, consistently two of the nation's toughest teams, it’s slightly easier to digest.
Eventually, though, for the Wolverines to get to where they want to be — a perennial national title contender — they’re going to have to beat Ohio State, Michigan State and other top tier teams.
After all, as the saying goes: to be the best, you have to beat the best.
That’s the next feat Barnes Arico has to conquer.
Sharf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.