The Wolverines go into the program’s first-ever Women’s National Invitational Tournament final four matchup with their sights set on a shot at a championship. But the script reads the same for the Miami Hurricanes, whose dominant offense could bring about something Michigan fans haven’t seem so far in the WNIT: a close final four.
In their first four games of the tournament, the Wolverines won by an average of 24 points. And it’s not because their opponents haven’t been good teams – when Michigan beat Toledo in the second round of the tournament, it avenged the Rockets’ preseason scrimmage win in which they rolled over the Wolverines.
The difference between that scrimmage and the WNIT is the energy and confidence Michigan (8-10 Big Ten, 21-13 overall) has been coming out with every game. In the “new season” that has been the month of March, freshman starters Dayeesha Hollins and Jenny Ryan have played with conviction after finding their roles on the court and places on the team in the regular season.
“I feel like this is our sophomore season,” Ryan said after beating Kent State in the first round of the WNIT. “I’m comfortable with the offense. I’m settled into that role and I think everyone else around me has felt that too. You kind of aren’t searching for your way anymore. You’ve pretty much found it, and that will make a difference.”
That said, Hollins, Ryan and the rest of the squad have a tall task ahead of them.
The Hurricanes (4-10 ACC, 21-13) average 75 points per game to Michigan’s 66. Miami is led by sophomores Riguna Williams and Shenise Johnson, each of whom account for 19 points per game. No other player on the team averages double digits, and either Williams or Johnson has been Miami’s leading scorer for all but three of the squad’s games this season.
The Wolverines are slightly more spread out offensively. Sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds, junior guard Veronica Hicks and Hollins all average double digits for the Wolverines, Reynolds and Hicks, the team’s leading scorers, average 13 points per game.
If Michigan is going to keep its season going, the team will have to find a way to quiet Williams and Johnson without leaving the rest of the team unguarded. Senior forward Diane Barnes, Miami’s third-leading scorer, checks in at nearly 10 points per game.
Michigan has had home-court advantage throughout the WNIT and hasn’t lost a game at home to a non-conference opponent all season. Still, this will be the Hurricanes’ second consecutive road game in the tournament and they have yet to lose an away game to a non-conference opponent all season.
And Miami won’t give the Wolverines a break. Johnson registered her 10th double-double of the season Sunday in Providence when she scored a season high 33 points and grabbed 10 board. She could carry that momentum into tonight’s matchup.
Michigan is up against arguably its toughest opponent of the WNIT so far tonight. If the Wolverines find a way to stop Johnson and Williams they could see the finals of the WNIT for the first time in program history on Saturday. Otherwise, Hollins’s and Ryan’s second season as freshmen could be over.