If you’ve been following the Michigan women’s basketball team for the past couple of years, you know how many history-making moments it has had.
In 2017, the Wolverines won their first WNIT Championship.
In 2021, then-junior forward Naz Hillmon broke the Michigan record – for both the men’s and women’s programs – with 50 points in a single game, and the Wolverines made their first Sweet Sixteen appearance.
This season, they secured a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament — the highest in program history.
Along the way, Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has become the first coach in program history to lead the team to a top 10 ranking, reaching as high as top five. The first to surpass 200 wins with the program. The only coach to have eight 20-win seasons.
On Monday, the Wolverines will add another line to their list of firsts:
First Elite Eight appearance.
“Obviously we have made history throughout this entire season, but we wanted to continue to keep doing things that have never been done before and go through the highs and lows that we did this season,” senior guard Leigha Brown said after Saturday’s win against South Dakota. “ … But we’re not done yet. We want to keep making history.”
You can judge Michigan by its extensive list of accolades. But it’s even more telling to look at what’s not on its résumé.
It was less than two months ago that a snowstorm and a canceled road game essentially lost Michigan what would have been its first Big Ten title. And it was less than a month ago that No. 6 seed Nebraska took the Wolverines by surprise in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.
“That’s crushing and that can be devastating and that can change the outcome of the year, for sure,” Barnes Arico said.
And, yet, it didn’t. Michigan took to the court in the first round of March Madness, seemingly unfazed by its earlier challenges, and blew out American, 74-39.
What’s not noted on the Wolverines’ stats sheet is senior guard Amy Dilk’s injury that kept her out of most conference games. And the fact that they pulled off a 13-4 Big Ten record even without one of their biggest defensive assets.
It’s not just the record-breaking moments, but the times they’ve been tested that makes this team what it is.
That combination of confidence and resilience is tested more and more as Michigan makes its way through March. Even as their wins have gotten progressively closer — their first win by 35, their second by 15 and their most recent by just three — the Wolverines have maintained their composure.
“There were a lot of things that happened during the course of the year that we could have crumbled and said ‘Well, woe is me’ and ‘Why did this happen to us?’ ” Barnes Arico said. “I’m sure alone in our moments we do say that, but I think the great quality about this team and this program has been the ability to get back up every day and to come together and say, ‘Well, now we have something to prove.’ ”
This dynamic is maybe best seen in the ending of Saturday’s game. After trailing by five points with less than two minutes left, the Coyotes managed to tie the game. In the final minute with the team’s hopes on the line, Barnes Arico’s message from the sidelines encompassed all of the confidence and resilience this season has built:
“That right there, that gave me the most confidence in the world,” freshman guard Laila Phelia said. “I felt like just being able to have the head coach sit there and tell me to go score and don’t hesitate at all, I felt like that really helped a lot.”
You can judge the Wolverines by the records they’ve broken and the games that they’ve won, or you can judge them by the number of times they’ve fallen and had to get back up. Either way, the conclusion is the same:
Michigan is a force to be reckoned with.