Michigan hopes road stretch will help later in the season
Since the Michigan women’s basketball team last played at Crisler Center against Western Michigan on Nov. 21, the Wolverines have traveled to the Virgin Islands, Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Michigan had a largely successful start to its odyssey as it posted a 3-1 record in the first four contests away from Ann Arbor. The Wolverines defeated then-No. 25 Gonzaga in the Virgin Islands, 78-66, as well as Georgia Tech, 92-52, while their only defeat came at the hands of then-No. 10 Florida State.
Both Michigan’s offense and its defense clicked against Georgia Tech. Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty tallied 25 points while junior forward Jillian Dunston achieved a double-double with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, the defense held Georgia Tech to just 29.3 percent shooting.
“It was surprising,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on WTKA radio. “They’re a good team, and they came into the game undefeated. We knew it was going to be tough playing at their place, especially with the schedule that we’ve had. But our kids were really locked into the game plan, and they’re getting better defensively.”
But in Monday’s 61-58 loss to Xavier, which has yet to play away from Cincinnati, all of the miles the Wolverines have logged seemed to finally catch up to them.
Though Flaherty compiled 21 points, only one other player — senior guard Siera Thompson — scored in double digits Monday night. Michigan shot an uncharacteristically low 33.9 percent from the floor and was outrebounded, 46-32.
The Wolverines still had a chance to walk away with a win, though, as they held a 58-57 lead with 1:02 in the fourth. But the better-rested Musketeers answered with a two-pointer and two free throws to saddle Michigan with its second defeat of the season.
“Xavier did a really good job taking us out of what we wanted to do,” Barnes Arico said. “They tried to limit Katelynn, Siera, (freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick) and our scorers, and try to have our non-scorers shoot the ball. I think our confidence got shaken a little bit because we were asking people that normally don’t shoot the ball to score for us.”
Though Barnes Arico acknowledged the difficulties of such an extended road trip, she pointed out a silver lining. During Big Ten play, the Wolverines have two sets of back-to-back road games — against Wisconsin and No. 12 Ohio State and then against No. 4 Maryland and Nebraska.
From a travel perspective, those voyages will pale in comparison to the one Michigan is currently on, and the Wolverines may even be better prepared to handle the grind because of the grueling nature of the current stretch.
“Siera said to me after the (Xavier) game, ‘Coach, my legs haven’t felt like that in four years,’ ” Barnes Arico said. “I think that the travel is kind of getting to us a little bit. But we keep preaching to our team that this is going to prepare us for March. We are hoping that this helps us in the long run.”
But before then, the Wolverines will add over 5,000 more miles to their already extensive itinerary, as their next games are at San Diego State on Friday and No. 9 UCLA on Sunday.