Wolverines earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament

Monday, March 12, 2018 - 10:21pm

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico will be in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in her coaching career.

Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico will be in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth time in her coaching career. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

After just missing out last season, the Michigan women’s basketball team has made the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines gathered at Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico’s house to watch the selection show on Monday evening and waited patiently for their name to be announced. Seniors Katelyn Flaherty and Jillian Dunston sat together on a big chair. The mood was upbeat as Barnes Arico walked around and asked everyone their predictions.

“I was going around the room asking different players different questions, and the mood was really light,” Barnes Arico said. “Everyone was laughing and having a good time.”

Barnes Arico wanted to add levity to a tense situation. After all, the Wolverines were almost guaranteed a spot last year, but the show ended without Michigan’s name mentioned.

However, as the show went on Monday, the Wolverines began to get a little bit nervous. The memory of waiting hopefully for their name to be called last year hung in the back of the team’s minds.

“By the time bracket two was called and we weren’t mentioned, no one was really talking anymore and everyone was a little quiet,” Barnes Arico said. “You could see the beads of sweat starting to form on some of their heads. It was a little nerve-racking at that point.”

But then Michigan’s moment came.

The Wolverines were finally added to the field, and the suspense was lifted.

“We were getting a stomach ache because it was a while through. ... Everyone was getting a little stressed,” Barnes Arico said. “And then it was Michigan. We just jumped up and were screaming. We didn’t really hear much after that, thank goodness we recorded the show so we can go back and watch again.”

The bid is Michigan’s first since 2013. It’s a new experience for everyone on the team, even for seasoned veterans Flaherty and Dunston, Barnes Arico noted how great the moment was for the pair after putting in four years of hard work, including a Women’s National Invitation Tournament championship last season.

“Anytime you can get invited to the NCAA Tournament is a tremendous honor,” Barnes Arico said. “The players in our program now have never experienced that before and they’re so deserving. Katelyn and Jillian deserve to be watched on the national screen. This is a great opportunity for everyone in the country to see our team.”

The Wolverines were awarded the No. 7 seed in the Lexington region and will face the No. 10 seed, Northern Colorado, in Waco, Texas on March 16.

The Bears are currently on a 13-game winning streak that included a 91-69 win over Idaho to claim the Big Sky Conference Tournament Championship.

If Michigan beats Northern Colorado then it is likely to face the No. 2 seed, Baylor.

The Bears are known as one of the most dominant programs in the nation. They are 31-1 overall this season and went undefeated in the Big 12 and are a legitimate title contender.

Barnes Arico is ready for the challenge ahead of her team, though. She’s aware of the caliber of the teams they are about to play but believes the Wolverines will rise to the occasion.

“Every team in the field of 64 is a great basketball program and every team is fighting to survive and advance. Starting with Northern Colorado ... they’re a great program,” Barnes Arico said. “Every team is a tremendous program so it’ll be just fun to have the opportunity to play in that environment and to survive and advance.

“And then if we’re fortunate enough to get through Friday then we’ll have an opportunity to test ourselves against one of the best programs in the country.”

The stage is set, and Michigan is ready for redemption.