Four years ago, guards Siera Thompson and Danielle Williams were new to the No. 25 Michigan women’s basketball team.
Now, in their final regular season game, the two seniors will be honored before the contest in the midst of the Wolverines’ best season since they arrived in Ann Arbor. Michigan (10-4 Big Ten, 21-7 overall) will face off against Nebraska (2-12, 6-20) on Thursday night at Crisler Center, where the Wolverines have lost only once all season to Michigan State on Feb. 19.
“Our league is incredibly difficult,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico on WTKA. “And our last two games back to back, we played Indiana and Michigan State — who were preseason picked to finish third in our league. We knew they were a great team. Michigan State had beaten Ohio State earlier in the season by 20, Ohio State went and beat Maryland last night, who only had one loss to (Connecticut) on the year.
“So I think we played against some quality opponents and it was a great test for us, preparing us to finish out our last few games in the regular season and head on into the Big Ten Tournament.”
This senior class is special to Barnes Arico as it is her first recruiting class to graduate from Michigan.
Thompson has appeared in 136 games in her career, starting 128. She is currently second in program history for minutes played in her career, totaling 4,453 — just 105 behind first place.
Thompson is also currently second in career 3-pointers (232), second in assists (515) and 10th in all-time scoring (1,386).
Williams, meanwhile, has played in 112 games, starting just 43 and averaging 1.5 points per game in 12.7 minutes. While the statistics may not show it, she is considered a backbone of the program, serving as co-captain with Thompson for the past two seasons.
As a team, the Wolverines reached 10 wins in the Big Ten for the first time under Barnes Arico. The school record for most conference wins is 13, impossible for Michigan to surpass as it has just two more games left in the regular season.
However, Michigan could still take third place in the Big Ten Tournament with only one more win, and has a chance to finish third or better within the conference for just the fourth time ever.
“It’s definitely an advantage and we haven’t been in that position, I don’t believe, since I’ve been here,” Barnes Arico said on WTKA. “I think the biggest advantage of it, is that your kids get an extra day of rest, which at this point in the year — we had our bye week really early in the season — so there is a bunch of teams coming off of bye weeks late. … I think us getting that double bye would really give our team an extra day of rest, as well as the coaches and the team an extra day to prepare. And we are at our best when we have that time to prepare for our opponent and really lock in and really focus.”
The Wolverines stayed in the Associated Press poll this week, marking their third-straight week and the fifth appearance under Barnes Arico. The USA Today Coaches Poll ranked Michigan 24th.
Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty has helped her team get to this point, averaging 19.7 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting to date. She currently boasts 1,826 total points to rank second in all-time scoring at Michigan, and is just roughly over 200 away from knocking Diane Dietz out of first place.
The Cornhuskers only have one player hitting double-digits on average in forward Jessica Shepard with 18.4 points. Altogether, Nebraska averages 62.1 points a game and allows 75.9 points per game. Still, Barnes Arico has stressed that Michigan can’t take the matchup lightly.
“That’s the thing with the bottom of our league,” Barnes Arico said on WTKA. “Those teams are continuing to play extremely hard, and those teams have some great players on them. Nebraska is led by Jess Shepard, who is an All-America candidate. And they’re still playing. … Wisconsin and Nebraska had wins this week. You want to talk about kind of a letdown — as well as Indiana played against us … they looked nothing like the team we played, and Nebraska went and beat them.
“Nebraska is coming off a great win against Indiana, and they will be fired up when they come into our place. And I think our kids know, by playing Wisconsin late, that teams in the league are still fighting even if they’re down at the bottom of the league, and we need to be prepared. … We did a great job against them the first time at their place, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a much-improved team and they will come in fired up for an opportunity to play a ranked opponent.”