No one will tell you that it was the end to a perfect storybook
season, but it was about as much as the Michigan women’s
basketball team could ask for at Crisler Arena on Sunday.

With their 57-47 victory over No. 12 Minnesota, the Wolverines
were actually able to end the regular season on the biggest high of
the 2003-04 campaign thus far. Granted, the Golden Gophers were
without their All-American guard Lindsay Whalen due to a hand
injury, but Michigan still took care of business.

At 13-16, a postseason appearance besides the Big Ten Tournament
is far-fetched, but there was still cause for celebration on
Sunday.

Given the recent history of this program, things actually went
well for the Wolverines this year. There was no late-season
collapse like there has been the past two seasons. Instead, the
Wolverines have improved over the year.

“They’ve gotten a lot better as the season’s
gone on,” Minnesota coach Pam Borton said. “The kids
look like they’ve bought into Cheryl’s system
defensively. They’re playing well together and seem like
they’re playing within their roles. They look like
they’re having fun out there.”

Against the Big Ten’s cream of the crop, the Wolverines
played tough at home. They took eventual third-place conference
finisher Ohio State to the final possession, and No. 17 Michigan
State needed a 17-point second- half comeback to escape Ann Arbor
with a 59-54 win.

But it all came together versus Minnesota. It was something that
meant so much to the class of seniors that this team has leaned on
the whole year.

Seniors Stephanie Gandy and Jennifer Smith truly got a chance to
shine. Smith — Michigan’s second most prolific scorer
in school history — led the way with 19 points, while Gandy
followed behind with 16.

“I think we’re having more fun out there,”
Gandy said. “You can see it on our faces. We’re working
10 times harder than we did at the beginning of the
season.”

And after the victory, the only Wolverines who have been to the
NCAA Tournament got a chance to address the crowd and say their
thank yous and goodbyes at center court.

Gandy and Smith represent the ups and downs Michigan
women’s basketball has taken over the past four seasons.
They’ve tasted sweet success and bitter defeat. But, if
Michigan has a solid showing in the Big Ten Tournament, their
departure could be just right.

“We’ve tried to build on momentum during the course
of the year and really haven’t done a real good job of
it,” Burnett said. “So maybe we’ll learn from
that. Maybe we’ll go in rolling.”

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