Rohan Kumar: Now is the time that matters

Tuesday, December 4, 2018 - 9:51pm

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico and the Wolverines have lost three of their last four games.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico and the Wolverines have lost three of their last four games. Buy this photo
Annie Klus/Daily

It’s often stressed that regardless of how tough an experience may be, there are lessons to be learned; that one should treat each setback as an opportunity to fuel motivation and come back stronger.

This viewpoint is frequently stated in the sports world — sometimes halfheartedly. After a rough loss, when a team underperforms and positive takeaways are few, if any, coaches and players tend to take this stance just for the sake of it. Doing so can offer solace to fans, but nothing more is guaranteed.

In order to actually improve, one must embrace and fully believe in this attitude. And for the Michigan women’s basketball team (5-3), now is the optimal time to do so.

The Wolverines got the season off to a solid start, winning their first four games while outscoring opponents by 134 points.

Much of that was expected, though. While that stretch included an impressive, 16-point victory over then-No. 21 Missouri, the first three contests were against Mount St. Mary’s, Western Michigan and Detroit Mercy — all lackluster foes.

Michigan then lost three out of its next four games, falling to then-No. 10 Texas, then-No. 13 North Carolina State and then-No. 22 Marquette. The game against the Wolfpack was close; the Wolverines led by three at the half, but ultimately allowed too many pivotal offensive rebounds to secure the victory.

Against the Longhorns and the Golden Eagles, though, Michigan’s struggles were apparent from the start, and those two contests felt more one-sided.

But none of those three losses were totally unexpected. That stretch was set to be a test before it began.

It is still early in the season, but the Wolverines are at a crucial point. Their ability to regroup and move forward is essential, because they can still write their own script.

The right now is what matters. What’s going on behind the scenes will be impactful, one way or another.

There are a couple different ways this season could play out. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has a young squad, so the recent matchups against ranked opponents were many of the players’ first times facing staunch competition.

That means that for those players, it was their first reality check as to how good their team is relative to the nation’s top-tier. And due to the losses, the Wolverines’ youth became exposed to the gap between their team and the upper echelon. Now it’s time to regroup and reflect.

In order to have a successful season, Michigan can’t be complacent with its current position; the team’s youth can’t get comfortable with the gap. Yes, the Wolverines were slated as underdogs in those three losses. But that can’t be justification for normalcy.

The Wolverines also can’t afford to get discouraged. The youth shouldn’t see this setback as an insurmountable one.

Rather, the team needs to sincerely trust the come-back-stronger mentality. It needs to actually learn from its mistakes and strive to fill the gap.

Now, that’s easier said than done, but Barnes Arico knows some places where learning needs to occur — and how it can occur — before the season picks up again with Big Ten play at the end of the month.

For instance, after the Marquette game, Barnes Arico noted freshman guard Amy Dilk has yet to understand that occasionally just standing around allows the opposition to take advantage of her.

On the other hand, Barnes Arico then praised senior guard Nicole Munger for her hustle.

“I think she’s trying to set the example for the rest of them to follow,” Barnes Arico told WTKA after the game. “But we need to jump on board with that because there’s a big transition. You can tell, and I can tell. We need to pick it up quickly because it’s not slowing down for us.

There are no shortages of criticisms such as these, especially for a young team. But it’s what the team does with those criticisms that counts.