After spending 14 of its last 20 days on the road, the end of an exhausting seven-game road swing is almost in sight for the Michigan women's basketball team. The only thing standing in the way of the Wolverines and Crisler Center are games at San Diego State on Friday and No. 9 UCLA on Sunday.
The Wolverines (7-2) are coming off a 61-58 loss in a defensive battle with Xavier, and Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico is pointing to the team’s hectic schedule as contributing to its fall.
“That was a tough one,” Barnes Arico said in an interview with WTKA. “A couple days later, and we’re still feeling that … Our confidence got shook a little because we were asking people who don’t normally shoot the ball for us to score.
“They were an undefeated team who hasn’t played away from their home court, yet. So they were well rested. (Thompson) said to me after the game, ‘My legs haven’t felt like that in four years.’ So, I think the travel is kind of getting to us a little bit. But we keep really preaching to our team that this is going to prepare us for the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.”
Michigan's trip to California will be its first since the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The team will be jostling for a victory against the Aztecs (2-5) and attempting to secure its second top-25 win against the Bruins (6-1).
Notably, it will be the first time senior guard Siera Thompson will play in her home state.
“This is something we really wanted to do, ever since Siera committed to us,” Barnes Arico said. “To get her back home in front of her friends and her family. She’s really excited, as well as Danielle Williams. Her sister plays at UCLA.
“UCLA is a top program in the country, year in and year out, with some really good players. We’ve played them the last couple years and had some great games. It’s going to be challenging, but our kids are very excited for the opportunity to get out there.”
The last time Michigan and San Diego State met was in 2014 in Puerto Rico, with the Wolverines winning the bout, 70-50. The game featured career-high scoring from both junior guard Katelynn Flaherty and Thompson, who had 23 and 25 points, respectively.
The Aztecs just fell to UC Davis, 75-55, with only one player, guard McKynzie Fort, scoring in double digits. San Diego State is allowing and average of 70.6 points per game while scoring just 60.4 points per game on average.
Contrastingly, the Bruins have won five straight games and are celebrating a 72-49 victory over Hawaii. The Wolverines will have to matchup against forward Monique Billings and guards Jordin Canada and Kennedy Burke, who are all averaging in the double digits points per game.
Even outside of Michigan’s double-digit scorers — freshman guard Kysre Gondrezick, sophomore center Hallie Thome, Thompson and Flaherty — the Wolverines’ depth has been evident.
That will be key as the Wolverines must grapple with staying healthy in these final two games of the stretch.
“It’s been a tough balance,” Barnes Arico said. “Some players really need those rests, and they really need practice, to get their confidence back… But I think what has really helped our program, and this is something we continue to stress, is we can go deep into our bench and give people a break.
“I think that’s what separates good teams from great teams.”