LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Survive and advance.
That phrase has come to characterize both the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments over the years. During such a fast-paced, high pressure three-week period, it doesn’t matter how you win. It just matters that you do.
On top of having to play the best teams in the country, the quick turnaround between tournament games makes a deep run even more difficult.
Having won its first-round game against Kansas State, the Michigan women’s basketball team will now have a just over 36 hours to prepare for its next opponent — No. 1 seed Louisville.
Though that is a daunting prospect, the Wolverines do have experience playing in back-to-back games this season.
At the end of November, Michigan traveled down to Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase, where it played Missouri, Texas and Washington over three days. The Wolverines dropped the game against the Longhorns, but returned to Ann Arbor with an early-season taste of a tournament atmosphere.
“We had to play three games back-to-back-to-back against great competition,” said Michigan assistant coach Melanie Moore. “We did that tournament to prepare us for this stage. We wanted our kids to be able get a scout after a game, lock in from a mental standpoint, watch film and then have very little time to actually prep on the court.”
Advancing in the Big Ten Tournament also afforded Michigan a chance to play back-to-back games with little time to prepare. It hung tough against Maryland — a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament — until the very end, losing by one point.
Now, though, the stakes have obviously been raised. A loss is no longer just a loss, it’s a season-ender. With that in mind, no stone can be left unturned in preparation.
“Our video coordinator had over 200 games recorded from the postseason tournaments,” said Michigan assistant coach Wesley Brooks. “He makes a catalog of videos and organizes them so we can just pull those videos and go through our normal breakdown process. We have our typical two-day prep and go through offense and defense and special situations.”
Though a second-round matchup between Louisville and Michigan looked likely when the draw was released, the Wolverines didn’t allow themselves to assume anything — not even that the Cardinals would beat 16-seed Robert Morris.
“You really can’t do that,” Brooks said. “A 16 (seed) beating a (No. 1 seed) is a long shot, but it has happened. It’s happened twice — first in the women’s game and then last year with the men. You can’t take anybody for granted. Now yesterday, when the score of their game gets out-of-hand at halftime, you can now start really focusing your attention on Louisville. Like ‘Okay, that’s probably who we’re going to play if we win.’ I’m sure they did the same thing with our game in the second half.”
Added Moore: “From a staff standpoint, we just focused on Kansas State. We divided and conquered. I started watching film on (Louisville) but I didn’t say anything to (Coach Kim Barnes Arico), because it was like ‘Let’s get the first one,’ and then we’ll focus on them.”
As one of the tournament favorites, Louisville demands their attention. The Cardinals, led by All-American guard Asia Durr, have wins over tournament teams Syracuse, Kentucky, N.C. State and perennial power UConn.
In last season’s meeting between Michigan and Louisville, the Cardinals trailed by five at the break before dominating the Wolverines in the second half en-route to a 74-49 victory.
Though both teams look very different 18 months later, Barnes Arico hopes the defeat gives Michigan’s returning players an idea of what to expect on Sunday afternoon, especially with the quick turnaround.
“I think it definitely helps,” Barnes Arico said. “It gives our kids ‘Hey, we’ve played against them, they are not invincible. We hung around for a period of time.’ They have already seen Durr live. They have seen their team live and I think that definitely helps.”
The Cardinals are undoubtedly favorites and not having much time to prepare for them makes the game even more difficult. But at this point of the season, that’s just how it is. Survive and advance.
“It is a tough turnaround playing against any team now,” said freshman forward Naz Hillmon. “But we have prepared for this all year.”