For the Michigan women’s basketball team, a new season begins today.
The Wolverines’ first-round game of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament against Valparaiso tonight at Crisler Arena represents a new beginning. While Michigan’s goal at the beginning of the season was to make the NCAA Tournament, going far in the WNIT would go a long way toward putting in the past this season’s disappointments.
“I told the team yesterday ‘I’m tired of hearing how disappointed we are and how we didn’t live up to expectations,'” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “The reality is that we are in the WNIT. Let’s do the very best we can.”
After playing far below expectations in Big Ten play, there was some discussion as to whether the team would be playing in March at all, but after playing well at the Big Ten Tournament the team kept its season alive.
“I wanted to take a team that could show me that they wanted to go,” Guevara said. “And that’s what I saw when we came back from practice. It’s not good for our program if I say ‘no, we are not going to go.’ ”
Not having played since March 1, the Wolverines are on a new quest with a new starting lineup. Tabitha Pool will start tonight in place of Susana Jara in a more athletic lineup that will also include senior Alayne Ingram starting at point guard.
Jara, who walked-on four years ago, had started at the point 19 games this season. But Guevara wanted to replace her with the more offensive-minded Pool to help dictate the tempo at the start of the game.
“I felt that with that five we are going to start out right away,” Guevara said. “It’s not a knock on (Jara), but I want five weapons on the floor to start the game.”
Pool had started the majority of the nonconference schedule but was taken out of the lineup after Michigan’s game at Penn State on Jan. 13, as her offensive production began to fall off in Big Ten play. But Guevara thinks that Pool is ready to take on a bigger role after spending the Big Ten season watching and coming off the bench.
“Tab has demonstrated to me the last couple weeks that the defense has gotten better and the rebounding has gotten better,” Guevara said. “She’s getting much more comfortable with the motion offense. I’ve been pretty pleased with the way she has been the past couple weeks.”
The more athletic lineup should match up well tonight against Valparaiso. The Crusaders, who finished the season at 24-6 and won the Mid-Continent Conference regular season title but lost to Oakland in their conference tournament final, feature a plethora of 3-point shooters and the towering 6-5 Dutch center Marlous Nieuwveen. But Valparaiso has yet to play a team in the RPI top 100 this season.
“They really do a nice job of doubling in the post,” Guevara said. “They’re like a fly on fly paper as soon as the ball goes inside.”
But the Wolverines are worrying more about themselves then their opponents. After playing inspired ball at the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan wants to end its season with a win.
“If we can make some noise in this tournament and play well, it will be a nice springboard going into spring practice,” Guevara said.