If it’s true that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, then it’s time that the Michigan women’s basketball team sharpens its memory.
On Wednesday night, the Wolverines (11-5 Big Ten, 26-9 overall) will host Villanova (11-7 Big East, 20-14) at Crisler Center in what is Michigan’s third straight trip to the Women’s National Invitation Tournament semifinals — a game the Wolverines have lost the last two seasons. With an NCAA Tournament snub still on their minds, Michigan is just two games away from claiming their first WNIT championship and proving the Selection Committee wrong. The Wolverines have already put up a legitimate case with four convincing WNIT wins.
“Our team is probably playing some of the best basketball it (has) played all season long,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico after Saturday’s quarterfinals win over Virginia Tech. “I think our chemistry has been outstanding, and I think people have picked up the slack and picked up the minutes.”
The Wildcats, though, are coming off of an impressive 69-57 victory over Indiana, where they hit 10 first-half 3-pointers. While their 3-point shooting was impressive, it has been sporadic at times this season — Villanova ranks in the bottom third of scoring offenses in Division I. The Wildcats’ offense is generated by how they value each possession, as they boast the fewest turnovers per game in the country (9.5).
“(Villanova is) really a 3-point shooting team, they have five people that can shoot threes,” Barnes Arico said. “They run a lot flare screens, motion offense, five out. … It’s very difficult to defend, and I can see why a lot of teams have had a tough matchup with them thus far.
“They’re an interesting matchup for us. We’ve gotta try to play our style and still be able to get out in defensive transition, we’ve gotta try to offensive rebound a little bit to give ourselves some more possessions and limit our turnovers.”
Villanova’s backcourt of Alex Louin and Adrianna Hahn could pose problems for the Wolverines, who have been juggling their guard play in light of freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick’s absence for personal reasons. The duo comprises nearly half of the Wildcats’ scoring and is their greatest threat beyond the arc. The Wildcats are efficient on the defensive side of the ball however, surrendering just 61.6 points per game. But stodgy low-post defense has plagued them in the past — getting nearly doubled in points in the paint against Creighton and Mississippi State earlier this season, for example — and will be especially vulnerable against Michigan’s potent offense.
The Wolverines typically best teams with their 3-point shooting — which ranks fifth in the nation — but to beat the Wildcats they will have to generate offense down low, something Michigan is not unfamiliar with. Sophomore center Hallie Thome has a three-inch height advantage over Villanova’s tallest player, and has been turning up in the WNIT, boasting 20.5 points per game in her last four contests.
The Wolverines have had a program record-breaking season with 26 victories thus far, and a win over the Wildcats would put them just one step closer to doing something that they have never done before: hanging a banner in the Crisler Center rafters.