Wichita, Kan. –After the Michigan women’s basketball team achieved its first-ever Elite Eight berth with a 52-49 win over South Dakota on Saturday, coach Kim Barnes Ariko thought about how the Wolverines felt grounded three weeks ago.
Michigan was upset 76-73 in the Big Ten quarter-final against Nebraska on March 4. This came after stings from missing a chance to win the league title in the regular season.
Michigan and Maryland finished 13-4 in the Big Ten, with both playing a game against last-placed Illinois that was postponed and not made up. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Iowa took all of their league games and finished 14-4, giving them a higher win percentage as they shared the title. But Michigan had the best record against the other three.
“We don’t have any Big Ten Championship banners hanging at Chrysler Circuit and this year we had an incredible opportunity to hang one,” Barnes Arico said on Saturday. “And because of a blizzard and a cancellation, we had less game. That’s overwhelming, it can be devastating and it can change the outcome of the year, for sure.
“We lost two matches in February in a row on the road where [starter] Liga Brown not played. This is overwhelming, and this is a challenge. We won one of them, and we won the Big Ten Championship.
“So there were a lot of things that happened during the year that we could have collapsed and said, ‘Well, woe to me and why did this happen to us?'”
Instead, the No. 3 Wolverines defeated the American No. 14, 11 Villanova and 10 South Dakota to earn a spot in Monday’s regional final against Louisville No. 1 (9pm EST). Michigan is the last Big Ten team standing in the NCAA Women’s or Men’s Championships.
The South Dakota Duck defeated the No. 2 seed Baylor in the second round, but the way the Coyotes played on Saturday, it wasn’t an easy game with Michigan. Especially with the Wolverines feeling like a “road” team as many South Dakota fans walked the 400 miles to Wichita to give the Coyotes what looked like an advantage at home.
For Barnes Ariko, who took over Michigan in 2012, the fact that her team bounced back from the disappointments ahead of the NCAA Championship made Saturday’s win all the more special.
“It’s really tough because I think in 20 years I’ll be looking up and the Big Ten banner won’t be there,” said Barnes Ariko. “And this team deserves it more than anyone I have been a part of, and that will never go away.
“But the moment we had today will never go away. We are still playing. There are eight darn teams left in the country and we are one of them.”