The Michigan women’s basketball players walked off the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with their heads down. Following a heart-wrenching 73-72 defeat to top-seeded Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, it was hard for players and coaches to remember that the game was by no means the end of their season.
“I probably won’t sleep for like three days,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “It’s gonna be horrible.”
As amazing as it would have been for the Wolverines to capture, or even compete in, the program’s first Big Ten Championship, the conference tournament is just a step toward the team’s ultimate goal of making a run in the NCAA Tournament.
While having a victory over the Terrapins and claiming an automatic tournament berth if it had gone on to win the Big Ten Tournament would have been nice, Michigan has no need to let the loss get under its skin. As a matter of fact, it shouldn’t.
Next Monday, Mar. 18, the Wolverines will likely hear their name called at some point during the NCAA women’s basketball selection show. Given its top-50 Rating Percentage Index, four wins over RPI top-50 teams and top-four Big Ten finish, Michigan should end up in the seven-to-ten seed range — ESPN.com’s Charlie Creme currently has them as an eight seed.
Still, it’s hard for players, especially seniors, to end the Big Ten season with a loss. For senior guard and co-captain Nicole Munger, the loss was especially crushing because of a goal she had set for herself and the rest of her team months ago.
“We made a bold statement coming out at the beginning of the year saying that we wanted to win (the Big Ten Tournament),” Munger said after the loss to Maryland. “And I think we put ourselves, like coach said, in the position to win it. And I think that’s what’s so tough. We played a heck of a game today. We left everything out there, and the ball bounced the wrong way a couple of times.”
Munger, being the leader she is, made sure to console the younger Wolverines after the game, reminding them that while the loss might have been the end of their Big Ten season, it wasn’t their last chance at glory.
“I talked to each of (the underclassmen) after the game and told them they have one, two or three years left,” Munger said. “They only have three more shots at this and to make each one count and that it’s limited. I see it now because it’s over, you know I’m done playing Big Ten basketball, but how fun it is and, like coach said, how it’s the best conference in the country.”
Even though the conference season may be over, you can bet on Munger and her teammates to be glued to their television watching the selection show, ready to leave everything they have on the court come NCAA Tournament time.