Sitting at No. 9 in the Big Ten standings, the Michigan women’s basketball team is still on pace to avoid the four-team play-in series that kicks off the Big Ten Tournament.
But as Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has said countless times this season, anything can happen on any given day, so all is still up for grabs in this final stretch.
The Wolverines (7-8 Big Ten, 15-11 overall) have three games left to solidify a spot in the Big Ten’s top 10, and it starts Saturday when they host Penn State.
Michigan played the Lady Lions (5-10, 10-16) back on Jan. 17, escaping Happy Valley with its first win there since 2001.
The 15-year drought ended when three of Michigan’s guards — sophomore Katelynn Flaherty, freshman Boogie Brozoski and senior Madison Ristovski — combined to go 13-for-14 from the free-throw line in the last minute of play.
Penn State remained in the game down the stretch, but Michigan was able to seal it from the charity stripe.
“Anytime you get a win (at Penn State)… well, it’s not an easy place to win,” Barnes Arico said after the game. “To come away with a win is satisfying. We led most of the game and really made great runs, but they made big baskets.”
In that game, Flaherty scored a team-high 23 points to lead the Wolverines to a 91-87 victory. The midseason game was a huge confidence boost for the Wolverines, who were coming off a narrow loss to Maryland.
Oddly enough, Michigan has a similar script written this weekend.
Having lost to No. 6 Maryland on Wednesday by 20 points, despite leading at halftime, Michigan has yet another chance to bounce back after the Terrapins halted its three-game win streak.
A flight delay scrambled the Wolverines’ travel plans, landing them in Maryland at 3 a.m., much later than scheduled. Barnes Arico commented after the game that the delay and lack of rest may have been part of the reason the Wolverines “were exhausted in the fourth quarter.”
This weekend, though, Michigan stays home and there are no excuses.
Saturday’s game at Crisler Center also marks the last scheduled home game for Michigan’s three seniors — guards Madison Ristovski and fifth-year Halle Wangler and forward Kelsey Mitchell.
Wangler does not make regular appearances, but both Mitchell and Ristovski have taken on larger roles as starters this season, and their additions have supported the Wolverines at crucial times. Ristovski (6.7 points per game, 3.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds) and Mitchell (7.2 points per game, 4.8 rebounds) have both been consistent in boosting an underclassmen-heavy team.
While Michigan could return to Crisler in the postseason for the WNIT, the seniors have been nostalgic about their last run since early in the campaign.
“It’s very weird that I’m already a senior,” Ristovski said on the team’s media day in October. “I feel like the last three years have gone by so quickly.”
Ristovski’s career has seen many ups and downs, highlighted by an NCAA Tournament appearance her freshman year and a deep run to the WNIT semifinals last year.
NCAA Tournament chances are waning, and making a run in Big Ten Tournament is the team’s best hope.
Another win against Penn State this weekend can put the Wolverines in a position to do just that.