The Michigan women’s basketball team is focused on the bounceback. After a lackluster performance in a loss to Princeton on Sunday, the Wolverines’ hot start in their first seven games doesn’t look as impressive anymore.
But this Sunday, Michigan (7-1) will have another opportunity to put itself back in the top-25 conversation with a win against No. 20 UCLA. In a crowded Big Ten conference, the Wolverines are determined to prove they’re contenders. It’s their third consecutive shot to reclaim victory against an opponent they lost to last season, but this test is even tougher than the rest.
“(Since the Princeton game) people say, ‘Now Michigan played a real team and they’re not as good as they thought or as we thought,’ ” said sophomore guard Katelynn Flaherty. “We still think we’re great, we still believe in ourselves. So I think now, going forward, we have something to prove to teams.”
A statement win against the Bruins will surely turn heads and catch opponents’ attention. UCLA is 4-2, but its losses have come against premiere opponents in No. 2 South Carolina and No. 3 Notre Dame — both Final Four teams last season. The Bruins lost to the Gamecocks by just three and took the Irish to overtime before falling by four.
UCLA is led by Jordin Canada, a shifty point guard who averages 19.2 points a contest. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico called her one of the most dynamic and athletic point guards in the country. Along with skilled inside players who use their length and athleticism to rebound efficiently, the Bruins can also light it up from behind the arc. Kari Korver, the cousin of NBA sharpshooter Kyle Korver, shoots the 3-pointer well, and hurt the Wolverines in the 2015 WNIT Semifinal last season.
In the waning seconds of the semifinal, Michigan was down by two with UCLA at the free-throw line. The Bruins missed their first free throw, and they grabbed the offensive rebound, drew a foul and knocked down two free throws to make it a two-possession lead. The Wolverines couldn’t recover from there.
While assistant coach Megan Duffy has spent time looking at the film from last season’s down-to-the-wire game, which Michigan lost by four, Barnes Arico is analyzing film from this season. The Wolverines are a completely different team compared to the last time they played UCLA.
The Bruins are returning most of their team from last year, whereas Michigan’s young squad was exposed in its last performance and will be tested against an older team once again. The Wolverines may have actually have benefited from losing to Princeton, and Flaherty described the loss as a wake-up call. According to her, it showed the team what it needs to work on in order to beat higher-caliber teams.
Michigan is working on its transition game as well as taking care of the ball, two facets of the game it struggled with against the Tigers. At the beginning of the season, those two attributes were variables the team was very confident in excelling at.
The Wolverines’ first loss of the season has lit a fire in them, but they’ll need everyone at their best in order to win. They can’t just rely on a 33-point performance from Flaherty like they did in their last contest. A victory this Sunday would be much more than a bounceback. A win would prove that they are truly competitive.
“Our team is really disappointed, they’re bummed out,” Barnes Arico said. “But they know UCLA is one of the top teams in the country, so they’re excited to challenge themselves against the best.”