The Michigan women’s basketball team is facing a postseason test — not of skill but of character. The Wolverines (11-5 Big Ten, 22-9 overall) were snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee after finishing third in the Big Ten, but their postseason is not over.
Michigan will play its first game of the Women’s National Invitational Tournament against Kent State on Thursday night. While this is not the tournament it strove to end up in, it will give the Wolverines the chance to conclude their season on a high note — and potentially prove the NCAA wrong.
“Obviously, we’re extremely disappointed,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “But it’s going to be about how we move on from here and let that disappointment fuel us.”
This will be Michigan’s eighth-straight postseason appearance, with its last two seasons ending in the WNIT semifinals. The Wolverines have never made it past the semifinal round but they certainly have the potential to break that record this year.
The Golden Flashes (13-5 Mid-Atlantic, 19-12 overall) have a similar record to Michigan, but the Wolverines’ schedule was undeniably more challenging. Michigan faced five top-25 ranked teams, while Kent State only played then-No. 5 Baylor, to whom they lost 84-42 back in November.
The two teams have also faced off against four common opponents this season: Western Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Iowa. The Wolverines beat all four, while the Golden Flashes were victorious over just the Broncos and the Bobcats. Kent State suffered blowout losses to the Golden Gophers and the Hawkeyes, falling 92-62 and 83-48, respectively.
Yet, Michigan’s defense, led by junior guard Jillian Dunston and senior guard Siera Thompson, will have to watch out for offensive juggernaut guard Larissa Lurken, who averages 23.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. Forward Jordan Korinek is the only other Golden Flash who averages over 10 points a game. If the Wolverines are able to shut the duo down, Kent State will have a hard time sinking shots.
Michigan’s main concern will be regaining its scoring confidence. The Wolverines have not played since losing to Michigan State 74-64 in the Big Ten Tournament on Mar. 3. In that game, freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, junior guard Katelynn Flaherty and sophomore center Hallie Thome scored 23, 18 and 16 points, respectively. Despite their considerable efforts against the Spartans, Michigan’s top three scorers (and the highest scoring trio in the Big Ten) were unable to solidify the win.
The Wolverines also lost their last regular season game to Penn State on Feb. 26, though Gondrezick tallied 25 points, Flaherty scored 22 and Thome had 14. Against better teams, the trio’s talent has not been quite enough to push Michigan over the brink. While it may not be a deciding factor against the Golden Flashes — who have not proven to have a deep offensive unit this season — the Wolverines could use scoring help from Thompson and sophomore guard Nicole Munger.
Even though Michigan has lost four of its last five games, it has had almost two weeks off to rest and practice. With a proper mindset, the Wolverines can shake off lingering disappointment and still make program history by winning the WNIT.
“Our senior class has done a little better than the year before it and put our team in a better position than the year before it every year since I’ve been here,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re definitely headed in the right direction.”