With all the high-profile events in which the Michigan women’s basketball team has participated this preseason — the Jumpman uniform unveiling, the kids clinic and the open-practice 3-point shootout — it is easy to forget that the Wolverines have to yet to play a game.
That will change Thursday night when Michigan hosts Wayne State, a Division II team, in an exhibition contest. The game will be a rematch of the Wolverines’ 2013 season opener, when Michigan topped the Warriors, 81-55.
And with the season around the corner, excitement has built.
“I’m pretty thrilled with how practices have been going,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “A lot of ups and downs with the beginning of the season, but the enthusiasm and the excitement is really high.”
On paper, Wayne State appears to pose little threat to Michigan. The Warriors lost six letterwinners from their squad that finished 12-16 last year and the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference’s preseason rankings have Wayne State finishing sixth out of eight teams this season.
The Warriors are not completely devoid of playmakers, though.
Guard Shannon Wilson returns this year after averaging 13.6 points and four rebounds in 2015-16. Transfer guard Ja’Nee Williams came to Wayne State after averaging 10.9 points last year on an IUPUI team that tallied a 29-2 record. Wilson and Williams will test a Wolverine defense that Barnes Arico believes has improved from last year.
Thursday’s contest will also give Michigan a chance to show off its offensive weapons, the most noteworthy being junior guard Katelynn Flaherty.
Flaherty was the Wolverines’ leading scorer last season, accumulating 22.1 points per game and scoring at least 10 points in 34 of 35 contests. Already this season, she defeated senior guard Duncan Robinson of the Michigan men’s basketball team in a three-point shooting contest. Flaherty made 21 shots compared to Robinson’s 20.
“I know he’s a great shooter,” Flaherty said of Robinson. “I think it was very exciting. I think I made every shot up until the last ones. It was great to have a good atmosphere.”
Thursday will also be the first in-game action for freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick. She enters this season with high expectations after averaging 40.5 points for Benton Harbor High School last year, including a 72-point performance in a playoff game, a Michigan state record.
“We have an incredible freshman in Kysre Gonderzick,” Barnes Arico said. “She was Miss Basketball in the state of Michigan. We now can go 8 or 9 deep without losing a beat.”
While Wayne State shouldn’t pose much of a threat to Michigan — barring a stunning upset — the Wolverines are just excited to finally play an actual basketball game against another team.
“Preseason becomes long, especially with how hard we go every day,” Flaherty said. “You just have to realize that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s all going to pay off. I think we’re just really excited knowing how well we can do this year.”