Instead of eating turkey, the Michigan women’s basketball team will be sipping coconut water on the beaches of St. Thomas.
The Wolverines flew Tuesday morning to the U.S. Virgin Islands to participate in a marquee preseason tournament, The Paradise Jam, from Thursday through Saturday. According to its website, the Paradise Jam is the second-most popular tourist attraction for the islands, right after Carnival.
Michigan will spend this weekend playing against its toughest opponents of the season by far: No. 25 Gonzaga on Thursday, Winthrop on Friday and No. 10 Florida State on Saturday. The quick succession of games will start a stretch of seven straight games on the road, and the whole team is bracing for the challenge.
Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said she expects the team to be exhausted. “Besides that, I think everyone’s going to be in kind of a similar boat. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to take our team to a place where most of them haven’t been and to experience a little bit of time away from Ann Arbor.
“Part of the college experience is having a great opportunity to do this. It’s going to be great for our team, and we’ll have some time to spend with each other away from where we’ve been for the last couple of months.”
The Wolverines won their most recent contest against Western Michigan on Monday with a final tally of 66-40. Though the margin was considerable, Michigan had just made program history by scoring more than 100 points in three straight games, with the closest of those wins by 38 against Oakland on Nov. 11.
Gonzaga just made it onto the Associated Press Top 25 list, but the Bulldogs are definitely worthy of their berth. They are coming off the program’s first win at Stanford, which has lost just eight games at home since 2007.
Forward Jill Barta leads Gonzaga with 16 points per game. The redshirt sophomore was just named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week for her performance against the Cardinals, where she shot 8-for-10 from the field.
“It’s going to be interesting because Gonzaga is an experienced, long team that’s going to pose some problems for us,” Barnes Arico said. “They’re really experienced and real good post players and really play well together. They’re coming off a great win at Stanford.”
The Wolverines received 36 points in the coaches’ poll — just one slot away from making it onto the list.
Next up after the Bulldogs will be Winthrop, which is on a three-game losing streak. The Eagles are having trouble with depth and turnovers. Against their most recent opponent, East Tennessee, only one player reached double digits.
To finish out the series, the Wolverines face the Seminoles, who boast guard Brittany Brown — currently the only Florida State player to garner 500 rebounds, 300 assists and 200 steals. The Seminoles’ other asset is Shakayla Thomas, who has led her team in points in three out of the four games this season.
“So each night will be a little bit different,” Barnes Arico said. “I think we need to just try to take advantage of our strengths and try to continue and go in transition and use our speed and use our ability to score the basketball.”
The short turnaround between Western Michigan on Monday and Gonzaga on Thursday won’t leave much room to practice or work on details. Sophomore center Hallie Thome voiced concern about the Wolverines’ starts.
Thome does believe, however, that the team mindset will be a true asset for Michigan. Despite impressive players like junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, no one player is concerned about stuffing the stat sheet.
“We’re very excited to play more competition,” senior Siera Thompson said. “This is a test for us, and we’re all prepared.
“We’re so excited to just enjoy the sunshine. And those hotel beds.”