Crisler Center is having a party Friday night. And the Women’s National Invitation Tournament is the theme.
Last spring, the Michigan women’s basketball team won the WNIT championship game in triple overtime. The Wolverines will raise their banner before tipoff when they host George Mason to kick off the 2017-18 season. The game is the first round of the Preseason WNIT, which features 16 teams, including No. 9 Louisville and No. 11 Oregon.
Coming off an unimpressive 13-17 season, the Patriots are a much different team. Kara Wright, their leading scorer, graduated, and they have four new freshmen.
They also have 6-foot-5 center Natalie Butler. The graduate student played for powerhouse Connecticut prior to joining George Mason. Last season, she played in 36 games for the Huskies, averaging 5.4 points and five rebounds. She could pose the biggest matchup issue against foul-prone Hallie Thome.
No. 24 Michigan, on the other hand, is coming off a 65-43 exhibition win against Grand Valley State. The Wolverines had some struggles, though, getting off to a sluggish start and turning the ball over 19 times. They managed to beat the Division II school despite those missteps but will need to control the ball better against a tougher team on Friday night.
Michigan returns three core players from last year in senior guard Katelynn Flaherty, senior forward Jillian Dunston and junior center Hallie Thome. Flaherty led the team in the exhibition, scoring 19 points and grabbing seven rebounds.
Freshmen Deja Church and Hailey Brown will also see game time, as they make their regular season debuts. Both received substantial playing time in the exhibition. Brown started and scored 10 points, while Church put her hustle and solid defense on display, making a few crucial blocks and scoring eight points.
It will be the first-ever meeting between the Wolverines and the Patriots, with the winner advancing to the second round of the tournament to be played on Sunday.
But for Michigan, they’ll let the image of their first banner in the Crisler rafters sit for a while.