The Michigan women’s basketball team got what it needed out of its early contests.
The Wolverines completed their non-conference season with an 11-3 record — the best start in program history since Michigan also posted an 11-3 record to begin the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Both of those years, the Wolverines made the NCAA Tournament.
But Michigan still has to perform well in conference play if it wants to achieve another tournament berth. That road begins Wednesday, when the Wolverines will face Rutgers (3-10) at Crisler Center.
Statistics suggest that the Scarlet Knights will not present a significant challenge to Michigan. Rutgers sits at 193rd in the Ratings Percentage Index, while the Wolverines check in at 25th. The Scarlet Knights make 38.8 percent of their field goals and 25.1 percent of their 3-point shots, whereas Michigan’s percentages in those respective categories are 48.8 and 42.0.
Yet Rutgers is not totally devoid of weapons. Guard Khadaizha Sanders posted 17 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds against Seton Hall on Dec. 13.
And the Scarlet Knights have history on their side too. Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Rutgers has gone 4-0 against Michigan, including a 72-50 victory last year in Piscataway.
As for the Wolverines, the emergence of freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick has given them a boost. Last Thursday against American, she posted 19 points and six assists — a performance strong enough to earn her Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.
Sophomore center Hallie Thome has also become a key piece in Michigan’s lineup, as she is averaging 13.4 points and 6.6 rebounds. She netted a double-double against Vermont on Dec. 17.
“We always try to get Hallie involved early,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s such an integral part of our team and of our offense. Sometimes she gets in foul trouble and that hurts us. But we’re a different team when she’s in the game because she has such a great ability to score.”
But the Wolverines wouldn’t have enjoyed their early successes without junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who has scored 10 or more points in all but one game this season. She is 18 points away from breaking into the top-five of all-time scorers at Michigan.
“Katelynn had a great night (against American), in 25 minutes, too,” Barnes Arico said. “She was coming in the game with a migraine not feeling well, so I was worried about how that would go. I could tell by the way she was shooting the ball she felt very comfortable.”
And there is a new weapon who will join the Wolverines in time for Wednesday’s game. Senior Abby Cole — who recently completed her career as an integral piece of the Michigan volleyball team — will suit up in time for Wednesday’s contest. Though she has not played basketball since her time at Grand Haven (Mich.) High School, Cole was once an All-State player and could still give the Wolverines a needed size boost.
Before the season, Michigan stated that its goals were to finish in the top four of the Big Ten conference and qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines did what they needed to do in non-conference play to be in position to reach those goals.
The road to reaching those ambitions begins Wednesday against the Scarlet Knights.