The Michigan women’s basketball team is one step closer to finishing what it fell short of last season — winning the Women’s National Invitation Tournament. The Wolverines cruised past Wright State in the first round of the tournament, 81-53.
Michigan (18-13) led by just five at the end of the first half, but it made adjustments immediately following halftime to outscore the Raiders, 23-7, in the third quarter. The Wolverines played sloppy to start the game, committing careless turnovers and making momentum hard to maintain. Sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty scored just five points in the first half, but she found her shooting stroke later on to earn her 20th 20-point game of the season.
“We hadn’t played in a while, so I think they all had jitters,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “They all hadn’t played. So it took a couple minutes to get going.”
Though the Wolverines eventually found their groove, they may not be able to afford such slow starts deeper into the tournament. Should Michigan advance late into the WNIT, it won’t be given easy victories.
But first, Michigan must face its Round of 32 opponent, Bucknell. Saturday at 2 p.m. at Crisler Center, the Wolverines will host the Bison (25-7), who are coming into the second round fresh off a down-to-the-wire upset win over Akron, 74-70.
Bucknell is led by guard Jacquie Klotz, who averages 16 points and 10 rebounds a contest. The only other player averaging over double-digits in any category is forward Claire DeBoer with 15.9 points per game.
The Bison have been able to overwhelm opponents this season with their height. Bucknell boasts seven players who are taller than 6-foot, which could be a challenge for Michigan, especially since six of those players average more than 10 minutes a game. The Wolverines play four players taller than 6-foot, and just senior forward Kelsey Mitchell and freshman center Hallie Thome play substantial minutes.
Michigan has struggled against taller teams this season, as evidenced in losses to No. 10 UCLA and No. 5 Maryland. Bucknell is not anywhere near the caliber of the aforementioned elite teams, but if the Wolverines’ bigs get into foul trouble, the Bison could take advantage of their matchups in the paint. Barnes Arico is confident, however, that her squad will be prepared.
“My assistant coaches have been working around the clock since Monday night,” Barnes Arico said after the Wednesday’s victory, not knowing who the team’s next opponent would be. “They’re tremendous, and they will have us prepared for both opponents.”
Michigan and Bucknell share only one common opponent from this season in Binghamton. The Bison emerged victorious, 76-46, while the Wolverines took care of business, 90-62.
Though Michigan has the edge on paper and are the more talented team, the Wolverines cannot take Bucknell lightly. In the postseason, there aren’t any guarantees. For Michigan to follow its aspirations of winning the WNIT, it will need to take it game by game.
“We’ll get some shots up, have a light workout (on Thursday) and then Friday, really prepare for Saturday,” Barnes Arico said.