Life is good for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
The 25th-ranked Wolverines are listed in the Associated Press women’s basketball poll for the first time since 2002 and they have won their first three games in conference play for the first time in program history. They face Northwestern (0-3 Big Ten, 8-8 overall) on Thursday at Welsh-Ryan Arena looking to extend their program-best 10-game win streak.
Oh, and Michigan (3-0, 14-2) is off to its best start in program history.
Life is good for the Wolverines.
“It’s really great for our program to be recognized,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think it would be great for people around the country to see Michigan women’s basketball in the Top 25.
“But I don’t want us to get caught up in all that because I don’t want us to forget how we got here and what we’re trying to do.”
Instead of getting caught up in the national fanfare, first-year head coach Barnes Arico is going to continue pushing the Wolverines to do what they do best: getting the ball to the seniors.
Through the first 16 games of the season, Michigan’s five seniors have been the key to its success — senior guard Jenny Ryan, senior forward Kate Thompson and senior center Rachel Sheffer are all scoring in double digits. Thompson leads the way with 15.4 points per game. Her 3.69 3-pointers per game is not only a team best, but also second in the Big Ten.
Thompson is coming off her worst performance of the season — a six-point showing — against Wisconsin where she was held without a 3-pointer for the first time all season.
“I thought Wisconsin did a great job on Kate,” Barnes Arico said. “I thought (Sunday) was just the night we couldn’t get anyone going. Rachel wasn’t making plays. Kate wasn’t making plays. (Senior forward) Sam (Arnold) came in and didn’t really make any plays. So all the people that have really helped us on the offensive end really couldn’t get it going.”
The cold offensive showing against the Badgers could have ended the Wolverines’ winning streak but instead showcased the team’s versatility. With two offensive threats shut down against Wisconsin, the Wolverines looked to Ryan to lead the way — and she did so perfectly.
“Wisconsin really exposed us offensively,” Barnes Arico said Sunday. “(But) Jenny really stepped up when we needed her. Tonight she knew that we needed her to score, and she did what she had to do to help us find a way to win. She was incredible.”
Ryan scored a career-high 19 points and played all 40 minutes. But the Wolverines will need production from elsewhere going forward.
“My philosophy is to take it one game at a time and really not look past your next opponent,” Barnes Arico said.
Going into their game against Northwestern, the Wolverines will look to shake off their slow offensive showing and continue finding new ways to score.
The Wildcats’ .500 record is misleading. Northwestern lost two games to top-10 teams by only four points each and has proven to be a trickier opponent than anticipated.
The Wildcats have five players that average double digits. Forward Kendall Hackney leads the team in scoring with 14.6 points per game and forward Dannielle Diamant’s 8.1 rebounds per game also leads the team. In addition, Northwestern has guard Karly Roser, who averages 6.3 assists per game, which is second in the Big Ten and 16th in the nation.
The Wildcats have a huge size advantage over Michigan and will have to attack the post when they are on offense. The Wolverines have had size issues in most of their games this season, but their quickness and ball movement have helped them compensate.