When Kim Barnes Arico walked into the locker room after an 80-54 beatdown over Northwestern, her players greeted her stone-faced. Seconds later, water was flying in the air from all directions and Barnes Arico was doused head to toe, everyone in the room celebrating her 100th win as the Michigan women’s basketball coach.
The festivities didn’t stop there. The players brought out a cake and showed her a video montage with messages and pictures from current and former staffers and players.
“They got me a little bit wet,” Barnes Arico joked. “It was awesome. I was wondering what was going on, and then all of a sudden all the water went off and a beautiful cake and a beautiful video to follow.
“I’ve been really fortunate. My first year here I took over a team that had a great season the year before, really didn’t want to lose their coach and had five seniors returning. You really never know how they’ll welcome you at that point. They embraced me with open arms. … They taught me what it was to be at Michigan. We really connected from day one. It’s been great every year since then.”
Barnes Arico’s feat is especially impressive considering she is just over halfway finished with her fifth season with the Wolverines, and already just 23 wins shy of becoming the all-time wins leader in program history — trailing only Sue Guevara, who coached the team from 1996 to 2003.
“I was concerned … any coach that tells you they’re not, it’s a bunch of bologna,” Barnes Arico said. “But the players weren’t. (We) played a great team like Northwestern that had a week off to prepare for us. … As much as we scored the basketball, I think we really locked in on the defensive end and followed the game plan.”
Added junior forward Jillian Dunston: “We didn’t want to jinx it. We were hesitant to celebrate. We were telling ourselves we had to win tonight. Any game in the Big Ten is a big game, so we knew we needed this win regardless of the 100th win or not, and it was awesome to get that win.”
While the team will surely bask in Barnes Arico’s accomplishment — its next game isn’t for another week — there were plenty of other things to celebrate in Michigan’s win.
The Wolverines (6-2 Big Ten, 17-5 overall) returned to the hardwood of Crisler Center for the first time since Jan. 15, and what was primed to be a close contest with NCAA Tournament implications turned ugly early.
The Wildcats (4-3, 15-5) made the first shot of the game with an early layup, but a 3-pointer from freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick at the 8:56 mark of the first quarter gave Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
Northwestern’s offensive troubles began from the get-go, as it scored just nine points in the first frame. The Wildcats’ star forward Nia Coffey was hawked by junior forward Jillian Dunston, shooting just 1-for-7 in the first quarter and 6-for-20 for the game.
“(Our defense) is one of the reasons we’re pushing this year,” Dunston said. “Screening, rebounding, giving my teammates more opportunities. … It’s a big role but it’s not overwhelming.”
Alternatively, the Wolverines shot 8-for-14 — including eight points from Gondrezick — to end the quarter up, 19-9. Gondrezick went on to lead the team in scoring, notching career-highs of 22 points and six 3-pointers to go along with seven boards and six assists. Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty was productive in her own right, scoring 20 points and eclipsing the 1,700 career point milestone.
“To be able to shoot the ball that well gives me a lot more confidence moving forward,” Gondrezick said. “Being able to impact the game whether it be scoring, or rebounding or passing. … Being able to come out and get that sizeable lead was huge for us and gives us a lot of momentum.
Things didn’t get any better for Northwestern in the following period, as it scored just 10 points and turned the ball over seven times en route to a 41-19 deficit at halftime. The Wildcats’ 19 points was a testament to the defense that Barnes Arico praised earlier in the week — it was the lowest halftime point total for a team that averages 73.7 points per game.
The low point total is especially impressive considering sophomore center Hallie Thome sat much of the half after picking up a foul 28 seconds into the game. On the other side of the ball for Michigan, the team shot a gaudy 7-for-13 from beyond the arc. Senior point guard Siera Thompson also etched her name in the records alongside her coach, moving to second place among Michigan’s career assists leaders, with her 489th dime coming off a pass to Gondrezick for a right-wing 3-pointer.
“As the years have gone by … my role has changed,” Thompson said. “As a point guard, you have to sacrifice some of your game. I’m not putting scoring to the side, but there’s a lot of stuff I had to think about.”
With a lopsided lead heading into the third quarter, the Wolverines were more lax on both sides of the ball but did just enough to remain comfortable heading into the final period with a 21-point lead. Despite Northwestern’s height advantage, Michigan limited its scoring opportunities, outrebounding the Wildcats in the quarter, 12-6, while also forcing seven turnovers.
The Wolverines showed no mercy in the final period, beginning the quarter on an 11-0 run. But even in the final minutes of the game, with four reserves in the lineup, Michigan could still not be stopped, as a corner three by senior guard Danielle Williams was the final nail of many in Northwestern’s coffin.
With Flaherty surpassing 1,700 points in her career, Thompson moving into second in program history in career assists, Barnes Arico’s 100th win and a win over the then-fourth place team in the Big Ten, Michigan can rest easy for now.