In past Big Dance appearances, the Michigan women”s basketball team hasn”t shown “the hustle” it needs to get out of the first round. Exits in the past years have corresponded more with an “electric slide” out of the tournament.
No. 8 seed Michigan (18-11 overall) has made the NCAA Tournament three of the past four years, and the Wolverines feel their experience will be beneficial. The problem is, No. 9 seed Virginia (18-13), Michigan”s opponent tomorrow at 11 a.m. at the Joyce Center in Notre Dame, has had its NCAA Tournament “locomotion” running for the past 18 years.
“You aren”t going to win a national championship until you have gone to the tournament year in and year out,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said.
The Wolverines are just beginning that process. By having all their seniors, juniors and sophomores with some postseason experience, this year”s team hopes it has gained an edge as the most tournament-weathered team in the school”s history.
“The upperclassmen know what to expect because they have been there and done that,” Guevara said. “I think the Big Ten Tournament prepares you for the NCAA Tournament. So when you think about it, (freshmen Stephanie) Gandy and (Jennifer) Smith have already played in two big games where the atmosphere will be very similar.”
Michigan takes on a Virginia team led by Schuye LaRue, who compiled 23 double-doubles this season and averaged 17 points and twelve rebounds per contest.
“She is very special,” Guevara said. “She can rebound the ball and take it the length of the floor. I wouldn”t be surprised if she could dunk it.”
Containing LaRue will be the only way the Wolverines can come out on top. But the problem has no easy solution.
“I can”t really say what we”re going to do,” Guevara said. “I know we”re going to mix it up with some man, zone and who knows, maybe throw some junk. We are just going to try to make it difficult to catch and shoot the ball.”
Virginia likes a fast-paced tempo and runs well with the ball, whereas the Wolverines, plagued by missed layups this year, usually execute better in the half-court game.
“We need to do a nice job of maintaining our composure and setting the tone, trying to get them to play a half-court game,” Guevara said.
The half-court game is where Michigan can use size to its advantage.
Virginia “is going to be the most athletic team that we have played, but I think we are a bit bigger,” Guevara said. “We have bigger shoulders and are bigger-boned than they are.”
Michigan also has an edge because it scheduled, and beat, extremely tough non conference opponents in addition to its already tough Big Ten schedule.
“We had a really good year beating ranked opponents,” Guevara said. “I just looked over our schedule and out of 29 games that we played, 20 of those teams are now in postseason play. Of our 11 non conference games, six of those opponents are in the NCAA Tournament, four of them are conference champions. I think our non-conference schedule is getting better, and we are getting better in the Big Ten.”
The Cavaliers will have their hands full defending Michigan”s whack-a-mole offense, where trying to contain one aspect of the game usually leaves another open.
“We should be able to kick it out to our guards,” LeeAnn Bies said. “If they take away one thing they always leave something else going.”