Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico is one game away from reaching 100 wins at the helm of the program, and the only obstacle between her and second place on the all-time list for coaches in program history is Northwestern.
The Michigan women’s basketball team (5-2 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) will be hosting the Wildcats (4-2, 15-4) on Wednesday. The Wolverines are ranked third in the conference, but Northwestern isn’t far behind. Both teams have received votes in the latest AP and Coaches polls in the past weeks.
“Northwestern is a great, great team led by a young lady named Nia Coffey,” Barnes Arico said in an interview with WTKA on Tuesday.
Barnes Arico followed up that statement with a long list of Coffey’s achievements, including her prediction as a first-round WNBA draft pick, an All-American candidate and a first-team unanimous all-conference pick. Barnes Arico was also sure to point out that she can typically average a double-double.
“They are an experienced group of seniors,” Barnes Arico said. “They start four kids that have been playing together for four years, so they really have a ton of experience. They really play exceptionally well together, they know each other inside and out. They’re going to be a tough matchup.”
The Wildcats lead the all-time series, 38-31, and the all-time series in Ann Arbor, 16-14. Their most recent win was Feb. 14, 2015 in a 63-62 battle. The game featured double-digit scoring efforts from then-freshman Katelynn Flaherty and then-sophomore Siera Thompson with 10 and 15 points, respectively.
It was Northwestern’s Coffey who made the final layup of the day to push the Wildcats to their first lead of the day, and clinched the game for her team.
“We’ve had some great games with them the last few years,” Barnes Arico said. “I would expect tomorrow to be a great contest.”
Yet, the advantage for this game might go to Michigan, considering the team is 10-0 at Crisler Center this season — and 3-0 against Big Ten foes.
The Wolverines have made a habit of taking advantage of the third quarter while at home, outscoring opponents, 248-128, in the first ten minutes after the half.
The Wolverines will be midway through conference play by the end of this week, making it just the third time in school history where Michigan has won 16 of its first 21 games. The last two times have been in the 2011-2012 and the 2012-2013 seasons — Barnes Arico’s first year at the helm of the program was the latter.
Notably, in both of those seasons, the Wolverines went on to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
The contest could hold more groundbreaking moments other than Barnes Arico’s personal record at Michigan. Junior guard Katelynn Flaherty has a total of 1,693 career points — securely in third place for all-time points in school history. But, she is just 21 points away from bumping Jennifer Smith, who played from 2000-2004, out from second. Flaherty is leading the Wolverines in scoring, averaging 20 points per game.
Additionally, senior guard Siera Thompson is just three assists away from Jenny Ryan (2009-2013) for second place in all-time assists for the Wolverines. Thompson is en route also to breaking into the top-10 career scoring list. With just 38 points to go — and half of the conference season left — Thompson could easily join Flaherty on the all-time list by the end of the year.
“I think we feel very, very confident at home, we want to win for the fans and the people that come here,” Thompson said after Michigan’s last home game against Minnesota. “(Barnes Arico) always talks about protecting home court and the block ‘M’ so I think we take pride in that every day when we play in front of everyone at Crisler.”
Added Barnes Arico: “The first thing on that board is to protect that block ‘M.’ That’s our responsibility.”
Northwestern is coming off a two-game winning streak and ranks 13th in the country — and first in the Big Ten — in blocks per game (6.0). In the Wildcats’ previous matchup against Michigan State, Northwestern guard Amber Jamison tallied a game-high 22 points. Jamison was 8-of-12 from the field and 5-of-6 from behind the arc.
The true test for the Wolverines will be to prevent the Wildcats from reaching 70, or more, points because Northwestern has a 10-1 record when reaching that threshold. Concurrently, the Wildcats are 14-1 when holding their opposition to 69 or fewer points. Northwestern might be in trouble, though, as Michigan averages 83.7 points per game on 48.5-percent shooting at Crisler Center.
“I’m happy that we’re back at home,” Barnes Arico said. “It will give us an opportunity to play in front of our fans on our home court.”