Typically, a team in the position that the Michigan women’s basketball team is in would be grateful. The Wolverines are a presumed lock for their first NCAA Tournament berth in four seasons, after being selected for the Women’s National Invitational Tournament the past three years. With a program record-tying 22 wins thus far, Michigan’s season is obviously nothing to belittle.
But for the Wolverines, a state of uncertainty exists as they are left searching for more. On Feb. 15, with four games remaining on their schedule plus the Big Ten Tournament to play in, they needed just two more wins to claim sole possession of the all-time program record for victories in a season. Yet, their 1-4 jog to the finish line has put that goal on hold.
Once projected as high as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament, a solid end to the regular season could have given Michigan a top-16 seed nationally, and with it, a chance for home games come tournament time. But it couldn’t hold on, and are now focused on resiliency rather than riding momentum.
“So down the stretch here we’ve had the tough part of our schedule, and obviously we have to regroup from that moving forward,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “I think a couple of days, obviously, off will get the kids a break and get them fresh again.”
With no regular season games remaining and one week before the selection show, the Wolverines can do nothing but practice and twiddle their thumbs until their fate is revealed. ESPN predicts Michigan as one of the last four teams in the tournament as a 10-seed in the Stockton, Calif. regional.
The Wolverines have shown their volatility on the court, and it is difficult to count them out of any first round game. But their sluggish Big Ten finish has left much to be desired and brought back previously-unanswered questions about their game plan. Its second loss to Michigan State this year — in neutral territory at the Big Ten Tournament — surely left a sour taste for Michigan. But it also inspired a yearning to bounce back.
“I think some of these losses are good for us,” said junior guard Katelynn Flaherty after the Wolverines’ loss to the Spartans on Mar. 3. “Coach says it kind of puts a fire in us. It’s definitely disappointing to lose (against Michigan State) after coming off the past couple of games where we haven’t performed like we would have. But we’re definitely determined especially after losing this game.”
Added Barnes Arico: “Our kids will bounce back. They still have an opportunity to be a part of the best team that’s ever been at Michigan. And I think that’s really important to (seniors) Siera (Thompson) and Danielle (Williams) to leave that legacy behind.
“So I know that they’re going to go out fighting and that we are going to regroup. And if we get selected… it will be the first time anyone on our team has ever been in the NCAA Tournament.”