As Michigan center Krista Phillips goes, so goes the Michigan women’s basketball team.
And if the Wolverines hope to make a deep run in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, the sophomore will have to be at her best.
Michigan plays Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the WNIT tonight. The Rams dominated in a 13-point win over Charlotte on Saturday and come into Crisler Arena on a seven-game winning streak.
But will Phillips be at her best? The 6-foot-6 center has been inconsistent this season. At times, the sophomore played solid basketball, making a buzzer-beating 40-foot three-pointer against Wisconsin and dominating Penn State with a double-double.
But instead of building on those performances, she took a step back with awful late-season games against Minnesota and Iowa.
For Phillips, the second tallest starter in the Big Ten, success always came easily in high school.
“I was that much bigger than people,” Phillips said. “I was a pin, catch, score kind of girl. But I like the contact. I’ll go at someone and kind of draw contact and its been a change for me.”
The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan native easily outmatched her high school competition. Phillips averaged 19.2 ppg as a senior and was the runner-up for Canada’s Miss Basketball award.
But during her first two years at Michigan, she has struggled at times to adapt to the physical play of some Big Ten teams. In response, Phillips has begun to adapt to a different playing style.
Michigan’s late-season losses to Minnesota and Iowa affirmed how important Phillips is to her team. The sophomore was limited to just 13 points and two rebounds in both contests combined. It is Phillips’ dedication to the team that has allowed her to come back from these slumps.
In the game after Minnesota, Phillips dominated Penn State, scoring a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“Oh my goodness, she’s done a great job,” Michigan senior Krista Clement said. “I think that being a 6-6 girl, we put a lot of pressure on her. I pass it in to her and say, ‘Hey KP, go against everyone.’ “
All of the Wolverines have spent extra time in the gym, but Phillips has gone the extra mile. During the final men’s basketball game against Purdue, Phillips was waiting in the tunnel for the game to end so she could take shooting practice. The sophomore worked on her shot for more than an hour after the game, taking shots from the top of the key and from the wing.
Michigan coach Kevin Borseth has tried to develop Phillips into a dual-threat player. The sophomore routinely shoots more than 300 shots per practice, many of them threes. And Phillips has rarely shied away from an opportunity to take a shot from downtown.
“It’s important to be versatile,” Phillips said. “There’s a lot of big people that can’t do both. That’s one of the perks of my game and one of the things coach Borseth has been pushing. If you can shoot, then you are that much of a better player.”
Phillips’s dual-threat ability and post presence can carry Michigan deep into the tournament, but her inconsistency could easily cut it short.