The Michigan women’s basketball team returns to Crisler Center on Thursday night for the first time in a long time.

After a two-and-a-half-week stretch which saw the Wolverines travel from Estero, Fla., to Raleigh, N.C. and back north to Milwaukee, Wisc., they are finally coming home.

Michigan faced four ranked opponents over the course of their travels — No. 21 Missouri, No. 10 Texas, No. 13 NC State and No. 22 Marquette — earning only one victory against the Tigers. In the other three games, the Wolverines’ youth and weaknesses were exploited.

“We really, really tested ourselves,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to 1050 WKTA. “The travel has been the toughest part for our young kids. It felt like we were on an NBA schedule.”

Though the Longhorns and Golden Eagles thoroughly outplayed the Wolverines, the game against NC State remained competitive until the end — despite an 11-point loss.

“NC State is a great team,” Barnes-Arico said. “It was really a great basketball game until the end. And I think the atmosphere there was incredible. For our young kids to be in that environment, on the road, in the ACC, with the crowd getting into it like they did — that will really prepare us for Big Ten play.”

If Michigan had pulled off that victory, it would be returning home much more pleased with it current position. Instead a 5-3 record through eight games looms over the Wolverines, as they now have their first real chance to practice since they left Ann Arbor on Thanksgiving.

Challenging itself — especially early in the season — may reap benefits come the end of the year for Michigan, but as the Big Ten season inches closer, simply stringing together a few wins would be helpful.

The Wolverines should have this chance on Thursday night when LIU-Brooklyn arrives in Ann Arbor. The struggling Blackbirds are 0-7, failing to score over 50 points in three of those games.

LIU guards Brandy Thomas and Jeydah Johnson will likely pose the biggest threats offensively, but a lack of size gives Michigan a significant advantage in the paint. Similarly, the Blackbirds have struggled to stop teams defensively, giving up over 70 points to Fairfield, St. Peter’s and UC Irvine.

So the Wolverines seem quite capable of making this one ugly.

Still, Michigan has a few kinks to iron out itself. Freshman point guard Amy Dilk and senior center Hallie Thome — both key starters for the Wolverines — have struggled in recent weeks. The speed of the game may be catching up to Dilk, while for Thome, consistent double-teams have rendered her somewhat ineffective offensively. Look for both of them to rebound against a team that has struggled as much as LIU.

Additionally, a return to Michigan’s home-court advantage should help it after its long stretch away.

“We feel like it’s been so long since we’ve been home and had an opportunity to play in front of our home crowd,” Barnes Arico said. “Really we always talk about protecting that block ‘M’, so our kids are super excited about that aspect.

“More so than any opponent right now, I think it’s about us getting better. This road swing has shown us what the best teams in the country look like. Now it’s an opportunity to work on Michigan, and where we need to improve.”

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