There comes a time in every team’s season, no matter the sport, when it finds itself in a make-or-break situation.
That time has finally arrived for the Michigan women’s basketball team.
Following an up-and-down first 27 games, the Wolverines have finally found their rhythm. After digging itself into a 12-9 overall, 3-6 Big Ten start, Michigan heads into its final three regular season games undefeated in the month of February. The Wolverines are riding a six-game win streak highlighted by an upset 90-81 home victory over No. 10 Iowa on Feb. 1.
Before this month, while, like against the Hawkeyes, Michigan was able to get the job done at home, the talk around the Wolverines had been centered on their inability to win close games on the road.
“Our biggest struggle right now is finishing the last five minutes of the game,” said junior guard Akienreh Johnson after Michigan’s victory over Iowa. “You know we always do (well) the whole game and then the last five minutes of the game we seem to lose it. So our growth is going to be figuring out what to do with those five minutes.”
Since then, the Wolverines have put together three straight road victories — their only such stretch this season — including a late-game comeback on the road against Penn State in which Michigan battled back from a four-point deficit with under three minutes remaining and ended the game on a 10-2 run.
Michigan now looks ahead to two formidable opponents in Rutgers and Michigan State, which it will take on Thursday, Feb. 21 and Sunday, Feb. 24, respectively.
While both teams are currently ranked in the top-30 of the Rating Percentage Index, both have also seen recent rough stretches — both the Scarlet Knights and the Spartans have lost three of their last four — and were both just bounced from the AP Top 25.
This provides the Wolverines with the perfect opportunity to capitalize.
Still on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament, Michigan is in need of a late-season statement to show the selection committee it deserves a spot in the Big Dance.
Outside of their victory over the Hawkeyes, only one of the Wolverines’ other five wins during the win streak came against an RPI top-50 team — and even that only came against RPI No. 48 Indiana. Besides its wins against Iowa and the Hoosiers, Michigan’s only other RPI top-50 win came against Missouri.
The Wolverines, though, may have to make this late-season push without freshman guard Amy Dilk, who the team has been without since she injured her knee six minutes into their game against Nebraska two-and-a-half weeks ago.
“I think they’re getting accustomed without Amy and learning the role of point guard,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said following the team’s victory over Indiana on Thursday, Feb. 14.
On Dilk’s status, Barnes Arico could only add that the point guard is day-to-day.
Either way, if Michigan is to make the NCAA Tournament, now is not the time to take its foot off the gas.