The Michigan women’s basketball team is heading into its first game of the NCAA Tournament since 2013 — and it has a plan.
The No. 7 seed Wolverines are scheduled to play No. 10 seed Northern Colorado on Friday in Waco, Texas, and coach Kim Barnes Arico and her team have been tirelessly watching films of the Bears since Monday’s selection show to interest in their return to the tournament.
“Anytime you get to an NCAA Tournament, every game is going to be a great game,” Barnes Arico said. “Every game you’re going to be facing great competition. So we know Northern Colorado will be a great team.
Michigan aims to focus on Northern Colorado’s shooting ability, especially its tendency to shoot 3s.
“I watched one of their games and in the first they had made nine threes before they made a two,” Barnes Arico said. “So we’ve really been working on making sure we cover that 3-point line, we’re contesting shots, making contested shots, give up the two before we give up the three.”
Northern Colorado is looking to continue its 13-game winning streak after winning the Big Sky Conference Championship.
The Bears’ leading scorer is Savannah Smith with 18.6 points per game, including 2.2 3-pointers.
But, as Barnes Arico alluded to, Michigan is prepared for the sharp shooters and 3-pointers, and aims to shut them down immediately.
“We got to try to keep them off the line,” Barnes Arico said. “We’ve got to discipline ourselves. They’re a great scoring team. … But we’ve got to hope that our schedule has prepared us for this first round game. … (We’ve) got to contest that 3-point line, we’ve got to find shooters and give up the two before we give up the three.”
Senior guard Katelynn Flaherty is preparing for the pinnacle of her college career at the Tournament, but isn’t letting the excitement interfere with her game preparation. She echoes Barnes Arico’s focus on Northern Colorado’s offensive ability and plans to counteract its strengths.
“They’re a great team, they did really well in their conference,” Flaherty said. “They have a decent amount of weapons, great shooters, they run a great offense so we’ve really been focused on our defense and I think that if we lock in defensively. It should be a pretty good game.”
Flaherty wants to play Michigan’s game and to get a jump start early on. Against a team on a hot streak, putting any notion of an upset to bed early is paramount.
“Just to come out strong against any team is big. Especially with us, it gives us our confidence and our momentum,” Flaherty said. “Winning 13 games, I think you’re on a high at that point, but I think if we just come out and play our game, we’ll be good.”
The NCAA Tournament presents no easy feat for the Wolverines, but they are ready to take on any challenge that presents itself, and the first challenge is Northern Colorado.
For seniors like Flaherty and Jillian Dunston, taking it one step at a time like they usually do has been a tougher challenge than usual. Their first and final tournament appearance will be a special experience with over three years of work behind it.
“We worked so hard to get here between the players, coaching staff, all our support. It’s awesome to finish like this,” Flaherty said. “I think we put ourselves in a great position this year to be here. I’m just so proud of my teammates, how hard they worked, how hard our coaches worked to put us in this position.”