Five years ago, Kevin Borseth came to Ann Arbor to become the eighth head coach of the Michigan women’s basketball program.

He inherited a program that dwelled near the bottom of the Big Ten for a half decade and hadn’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001. His teams showed promise in each of his first four years, but slow finishes hindered any shot at a tournament berth. This season, the team hopes to change that story.

After posting a program-best 12-2 record to open this season, the Wolverines appeared to be a contender for the Big Ten title and finally earn a spot in the tournament. But in conference play, it’s looked like the same old story.

Michigan has dropped games to good teams in Penn State and Michigan State — the Wolverines haven’t beaten the Spartans since 2008 — and sub-par Wisconsin in the last three weeks, and it began to look like the Wolverines were going to have another breakdown near the end of the season. But there still is time to turn the season back in the right direction. If they want to take that next step and earn a tournament bid, the remaining five games will be the most important of the season.

If you compare last season’s and this season’s conference records, this year’s squad is behind last year’s. Michigan is currently 6-5 in the Big Ten, whereas last year at this point, Wolverines were one game better. Michigan will have to go 4-1 over the next five games in order to have the same conference record as last year — and matching last year’s effort may not even be enough.

With opponents such as Nebraska and Purdue still looming, the Wolverines have to take their game to the next level by beating the best teams in the Big Ten. And that starts with beating the Huskers on Thursday. They also have a home-and-home series against Iowa that can help them gain momentum for the postseason.

The Hawkeyes may be just 14-10 overall, but they’re tied with the Wolverines in the Big Ten standings at 6th, just below Michigan State. Iowa has beaten Purdue on the road, and the Huskers beat the Boilermakers in triple overtime last week. The Big Ten may be a mess right now, but the Wolverines can straighten it all out by simply winning these games.

There are a few stipulations, though. Senior guard Courtney Boylan has cooled off after a hot start in nonconference play, and senior guard Carmen Reynolds has been unpredictable all season. Those two were two of the team’s leading scorers last year, but they haven’t produced this season, which has been a problem for Michigan. Instead, junior forward Rachel Sheffer has taken the reigns of the offense and is now the Wolverines’ leading scorer. Sheffer has come up big in some of Michigan’s games, but one player doesn’t constitute a team.

There are five players on the floor, and all five need to contribute for the team to be successful. Boylan and Reynolds are two pieces to that puzzle. As seniors, they have the leadership capabilities and the experience to know what needs to be done down the stretch. They know what it’s like to hit a low — they lost to the worst team in the Big Ten last year in the conference tournament. In order to make this season different than the rest, they have to take control.

The senior duo has shown its potential. Boylan tallied a career-high 22 points in Sunday’s loss to Michigan State, and Reynolds has gotten back in stride after setting the program’s 3-point record. That offensive production needs to continue.

Sheffer, Boylan, and Reynolds make three. There are two more pieces in junior guard Jenny Ryan and the Wolverines’ bench, but those aren’t a problem for Michigan. Ryan has consistently contributed around the board all season, especially on defense, and the bench — whether it be juniors Kate Thompson or Sam Arnold — can step up in any situation.

So it all comes down to the seniors. Leadership and experience are two things a coach can’t teach, but they are things Boylan and Reynolds possess and have to use in order to finish strong in the last five games.

Right now, ESPN’s Bracketology has Michigan as a 10-seed. Earlier in the season, they were as high as a seven. It’s generous listing, though, as the same bracket has both Michigan State and Iowa as two of the First Four Out. The Spartans swept the Wolverines already and are higher in the conference standings.

The Wolverines’ nonconference play was one of the best of any team in the Big Ten. But that has passed, and it again comes down to the last push for the team to gain a spot in the 64-team field.

The seniors have been here before, and it’s their job to make this season different.

Borseth understands all of this.

“Everything is at stake right now,” he said. “(The difference between missing the tournament) last year, two wins. The year before, two wins. The year before that, one win. That’s what it comes down to, getting your win total up.

“You have to do well at the end of the season — that’s what you’re judged on. We’ve laid the groundwork in the nonconference, and now we need to be able to close the deal here in our conference play.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.