The Michigan women’s basketball team will have its second crack at pulling off an improbable upset Wednesday, when the Wolverines head to College Park to face No. 6 Maryland.
In the two squads’ matchup in Ann Arbor on Jan. 14, Michigan nearly came out with the win. The Wolverines (7-7 Big Ten, 15-10 overall) came into the fourth quarter down by just three with the home crowd fueling the comeback. But with their two post players, freshman center Hallie Thome and senior forward Kelsey Mitchell, in foul trouble, the taller Terrapins outrebounded Michigan by 10 and found easier baskets in the paint to seal a 74-67 win.
At the time, sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty said the Wolverines could still win the Big Ten, as they were just five games into the 18-game conference schedule. After the Maryland game, Michigan was 2-3 in conference play. Now tied for seventh place in the conference with just four games to go, the goal of winning the Big Ten is unattainable. And at this point in the season, a win against the Terrapins in Maryland will be just as difficult to pull off.
Maryland (12-2, 23-3) has lost to just two teams this season — No. 5 Ohio State (twice) and No. 1 Connecticut. All three losses have come by single digits, proof that the Terrapins deserve to be regarded as one of the best teams in the nation and are capable of staying close to elite teams.
However, Maryland is coming off a game in which it didn’t play its best. It beat Northwestern — a preseason Big Ten darkhorse now 3-11 in the conference — by just nine. The Terrapins aren’t invincible, but they are tough to beat, even if they don’t play their best game.
“Maryland is an incredible team, and (they) have a tremendous program,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico in her weekly radio appearance with WTKA on Tuesday. “They’re led by a guard (Shatori Walker-Kimbrough) who scored 41 the other night and then 35. We might have to change the lineup again, because we’ve been playing small to match up on rebounds.”
For Michigan to pull off the upset this time around, it will need to play one of its best games of the season. In its earlier matchup against Maryland, the game was in the Wolverines’ grasp. They held the Terrapins to 40.9 percent shooting from the floor and Walker-Kimbrough to just 15 points. Being outrebounded by 15, committing 16 turnovers and allowing Maryland to end the game on a 12-0 run hurt Michigan’s momentum. If the Wolverines can stay out of foul trouble, allowing their taller players to get more rebounds and the guards to take care of the basketball, they might have a chance.
“That’s one of the exciting things about our team — we are getting better on the defensive end,” Barnes Arico said. “We are seeing some progress, and it has been paying off the last couple of games.”
But again, this is a different atmosphere. The Terrapins boast one of the best home crowds in women’s college basketball and have lost only once at home this season. Michigan is currently on a three-game win streak, but Illinois, Wisconsin and Purdue are not nearly as talented as Maryland.
The Wolverines are also clinging to hopes of a berth to the NCAA Tournament. A victory against the Terrapins would be the resume builder they need in order to have a shot. The following three games come against teams behind or tied with them in the Big Ten standings.
Winning on Wednesday may give Michigan the momentum to make the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. After all, the Wolverines have won three straight Big Ten games for the first time since that season.
“We don’t want the season to be over, so it’s a process to get there every day,” Barnes Arico said.