Last season, the Michigan women’s basketball team set several offensive team records.
The Wolverines set new high-water marks in points per game (78.6), field-goal percentage (.478), 3-point percentage (.398) and assists (608) last season. This firepower led to a 20-15 record and an appearance in the semifinals of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament.
But the Wolverines have reason to believe that they will work out the scoreboard even more this year, as they will return their top three scorers.
“This is probably the first time since I’ve been here that I can say we are returning the most experience and depth that we have had,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico.
The most familiar name on that list is junior guard Katelynn Flaherty. She averaged 22.6 points in 2015-16 and earned consensus All-Big Ten honors. Flaherty is also the second-fastest Wolverine to reach 1,000 career points.
“I think it’s definitely different this year,” Flaherty said. “I’m more excited than I was last year, because we all seem so ready, and we know what we have to do this year.”
Sophomore center Hallie Thome, too, will once again grace the Wolverines with her presence.
And it will be much appreciated by Michigan, as she scored 14.4 points per game last year, pulled down 5.4 rebounds per game and made the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
“As each year goes, you have to grow with that,” Thome said. “A lot of people know my moves back to the basket, so we added some touch, like scoring off the dribble or just a jump shot so that they can’t know what’s going to happen next. Last year, it was just, I got the ball, dribbled, turned left or right. This year, I’ll shoot some baskets out or attack off the rim.”
Still, the most experienced player to return for the Wolverines is undoubtedly senior guard Siera Thompson. She averaged 9.4 points last season with 5.4 assists and is currently on pace to set new Michigan records for minutes played and assists.
“I think as you get older, especially as a point guard, you have to start worrying about other people on the floor and where they need to be,” Thompson said. “I think I’ve done that since I’ve been here.”
However, Barnes Arico saved her highest praise for senior guard Danielle Williams, who scored four points, rebounded six shots and got four assists in the Wolverines’ 77-76 win over Temple in the 2016 WNIT quarterfinals.
“I think every program needs a Danielle Williams,” Barnes Arico said. “If my child could ever be like Danielle Williams, I will have hit a home run.”
With so much offensive firepower returning for Michigan, some may overlook the potential of the incoming freshmen.
Not Barnes Arico, though. She was quick to praise her newcomers at media day.
“Our bench only went six or seven (players) deep last year,” Barnes Arico said. “Now these freshmen are going to come in and give us the ability to go eight or nine deep and to have that rotation if (Flaherty) picks up a foul or if (Thome) picks up a foul. I think our freshman class really provides length and athleticism.”
In that class is guard Kysre Gondrezick. The freshman from Benton Harbor, Mich., averaged 40.5 points for Benton Harbor High School — including 72 points in a playoff game — and totaled 2,827 points in her career, good for second-most in Michigan high school girls’ basketball history.
“They’re just expectations and there is people’s opinion of me,” Gondrezick said of the hype surrounding her. “Ultimately, I just have to take it one day at a time and whatever is destined for me and whoever I’m destined to become will in fact happen. So I’m not rushing the process.”
Despite the projected power of the offense, Barnes Arico acknowledged the importance of defense and what improvements the Wolverines will have to make in that area this season.
One potential new weapon in the defensive area will be senior Abby Cole, who will cross over from the Michigan volleyball team after the conclusion of that season.
“Abby Cole, that’s another smile,” Barnes Arico said. “One of my first days on the job, I saw (Cole’s) team play at the Breslin Center, and at that time (former Baylor star) Brittney Griner was the player everyone talked about. I felt like I was maybe watching junior Brittney Griner.”
Coming off two straight runs to the semifinals of the WNIT, Michigan’s increased offensive firepower and improved defense will prove crucial if the Wolverines want to take the next step and make their second NCAA Tournament appearance in Barnes Arico’s tenure.
“We feel like we’re close,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ve been close the past couple of years. We feel like we’re as good as a lot of teams that have been in the NCAA Tournament.”