NOTRE DAME The first two rounds in the NCAA Tournament are stepping-stones for more than just the road to the Final Four in the mind of Michigan coach Sue Guevara. They are building blocks for the future of the women”s basketball team.
Two of the past three years, Guevara has taken her Wolverines to the NCAA Tournament only to lose in the first game. In the week leading up to the tournament, she had heard quite a few reminders of her history. She made sure she doesn”t have to hear about it the next time she goes to the NCAAs after her 81-71 overtime victory against Virginia on Saturday.
“Everybody in the media (said), “Well, Guevara got her team (in the tournament) but they haven”t won a game,”” Guevara said. “Well, guess what. We did. So this is a nice step for our program.
“It”s a step and it”s what we have to take for our program to build what Notre Dame has here with their women.”
The question becomes, is one first-round win enough to be able to compete with the top-seeded Fighting Irish on their home court in tonight”s game? Notre Dame (28-2) is the No. 2 team in the country after No. 1 Connecticut avenged its loss to the Irish from earlier in the season with a win in the Big East Championship.
All-America and Big East Player of the Year Ruth Riley is likely to give Michigan the most trouble. The center recorded 17.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
“It”s going to be a challenge, probably the biggest challenge I”ve ever faced in my basketball career,” Michigan center Jennifer Smith said. “Ruth Riley is
a really good player, so I know I have to step it up even more than I did this
game” versus Virginia.
Of course the Wolverines want to win, and undoubtedly they expect they can
pull off the improbable upset. But Michigan isn”t just trying to advance in
the tournament, but advance its experience and maturity.
“We have a great opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country,” Guevara said. “I think it will be great for our program. I think it will be good for our players to see how they measure up.
“I think it”s even better for our recruits to see we are playing the No. 1
team in the country. Watch the game. Can you help us beat the No. 1 team in the country? Can you help us become the No. 1 team in the country?”
That”s a lofty goal for a team that still feels like every outing is a plea for respect. After wins over five ranked-teams this year, it still doesn”t
garner many votes in the polls. But Michigan at this point knows how to cope
with its absence from the national rankings.
“I”m just very happy for the win,” Guevara said. “I”m looking forward to
playing Monday night.”