The Michigan women’s basketball team accomplished a number of notable feats this season. The Wolverines have tied their record for wins in a single season with 22 and finished third in the Big Ten for just the fourth time in school history. They should also earn their seventh NCAA Tournament bid and second under coach Kim Barnes Arico. On paper, this year has been a major success for the Wolverines.
But the way the regular season progressed also left Michigan disappointed. Three weeks ago, the Wolverines were No. 20 in the AP poll and projected to be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After losing four of its final five games — including two to rival Michigan State — Michigan has fallen to a No. 10 seed in most bracket projections.
Despite the poor finish, the Wolverines insist that they are capable of appreciating the larger picture of the season.
“You’re starting to see teams with the big names, and you start seeing 20 wins, 21 wins, and then you realize, 'Hey, Michigan has 22,’ ” said Michigan assistant coach Megan Duffy on WTKA radio. “It’s hard in the day-to-day grind of it to take a step back and see the big picture of what you’ve done this year. One thing Coach (Barnes) Arico has been great about this year is trying to seize the moment, appreciate the win and don’t get too high or too low.”
Perspective and patience are two qualities Michigan will need abundantly over the next several days. Since the Wolverines lost 74-64 to the Spartans in the Big Ten quarterfinals, they do not have any more scheduled games. Michigan has to wait until the selection show Monday to learn its postseason fate.
Yet, plans have already been made for that day, regardless of what happens.
“We’ll get the team together and just kind of celebrate,” Duffy said. “It’s a neat evening for women’s basketball.”
The Wolverines have proven during the season that they are capable of responding to adversity. Following each of its first five defeats, Michigan retaliated with a victory in the next contest. All but one of those wins came by at least 20 points.
This time, though, responding positively will take more work. After not losing back-to-back games prior to Feb. 17, the Wolverines have now suffered consecutive setbacks twice. Should Michigan earn a tournament bid as expected, it will have to go for a bounce-back win as an underdog in the NCAA Tournament.
To help with the process of turning things around, Michigan brought in help from a fellow basketball coach.
“(Men’s basketball coach John) Beilein came into our office,” Duffy said. “He said, ‘You can’t let something like this dictate your season. And even going forward with your kids into the tournament, it’s a clean slate.’ They look to us and how we’re going to react in a lot of ways. And we’ve talked about not getting too upset or disappointed, just using it in a positive way. Let’s fix some things. Let’s get back to the basics.”
Another challenge for this team in seeing the bigger picture is the fact that none of the current Wolverines have ever participated in an NCAA Tournament game, as Michigan’s last appearance came in 2013. Barnes Arico’s staff, though, has plenty of experience in the Big Dance.
“I told them, even as simple as, when you watch games on TV, watch how teams show emotion,” Duffy said. “Watch how they’re so fired up for each other. Watch Derrick Walton right now as a senior. Those are the type of things that if you just seep some of that in, you’re going to see some positive results.”
One Wolverine who has a series of positive results has been junior guard Katelynn Flaherty, who scored 618 points this year and was a consensus selection to the All-Big Ten First Team. Still, Flaherty admitted that sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and see the larger picture.
“Sometimes I get so caught up in the little things,” Flaherty said. “Coming here, I used to be stressed out by everything you could imagine. (Barnes Arico and Duffy) have helped me enjoy being here and enjoy playing for this university.”
Duffy echoed Flaherty’s sentiments, and offered a reason for Flaherty’s anxiety.
“She comes in sometimes and is like, ‘Coach, I did really bad!’ ” Duffy said. “I’m like, ‘Girl, you had 20 points and six assists,’ or something. But they’re always looking at something that might not be what we’re looking at and striving for perfection. As a coaching staff, we have to say ‘Maybe you had some moments where you weren’t that great. But other times, you were really good and you have to still build off of that.’ ”
Whether or not Michigan can follow Duffy’s advice, building on the positives of the season while keeping the recent struggles in proper perspective, will go a long way in determining if the Wolverines — should they earn a bid — can pull an upset in the NCAA Tournament and notch their program-record 23rd win this season.