How they got here: Michigan just missed out on Big Ten title, now hosts opening rounds of NCAA Tournament


Selection Sunday used to cause some anxious moments for Kim Barnes Arico early on during her Michigan women’s basketball head coaching career.

But when the 10th-year coach invited her team to her house on Sunday for the selection show, there was little drama this time around.

The Wolverines (22-6) are in the midst of their best season in program history and were rewarded by the NCAA selection committee.

They are a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament – their highest ever – and will host a tournament game for the first time when they welcome No. 14 seed American University to Crisler at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. If they win, they will host a second-round matchup against the winner of No. 6 seed BYU and No. 11 seed Villanova.

Here’s a look back at key moments from Michigan’s 2021-22 season and how it got to this point.

Preseason hype

Michigan’s success this season didn’t come out of nowhere. The team also made history last year by earning a No. 6 seed in the tournament and reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time.

It returned six players who averaged at least 12 minutes last season, including five seniors.

With their top two scorers back in Naz Hillmon and Leigha Brown, the Wolverines were No. 11 in the Associated Press preseason poll.

RELATED: Naz Hillmon becomes first Michigan women’s basketball player named to AP All-American first team

Season-opening scare

IUPUI gave Michigan all it could handle in the season-opener at Crisler, forcing overtime. The Wolverines prevailed 67-62, but it finished just 3 of 20 from 3-point range and also appeared to lose starting point guard Amy Dilk to a serious leg injury.

Fortunately, Dilk returned after missing 12 games and Michigan avoid a season-opening disappointment, although IUPUI did go on to win the Horizon League Championship and earn a No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Wolverines get their revenge

With a 10-1 start, Michigan was riding high heading into its Sweet 16 rematch against Baylor on Dec. 19. The Wolverines pushed the second-seeded Bears to the brink last year before falling in overtime, but they got their revenge this season. They made all eight of their free throws in overtime for a 74-68 victory, their first over a top-five opponent in program history. And they did it shooting just 36.8% from the floor and 28.6% from beyond the arc.

STORY: Michigan women beat No. 5 Baylor in overtime thriller

Michigan enters driver’s seat in Big Ten

Barnes Arico’s team entered the Feb. 6 showdown against Iowa on a seven-game win streak, including knocking off back-to-back ranked opponents in Ohio State and Indiana. Michigan remained red-hot, fending off a Caitlin Clark-led Hawkeyes surge in the second half for a 98-90 victory.

The Wolverines stepped into the driver’s seat in the Big Ten, improving to 20-2 overall and 11-1 in the conference. Iowa only had seven available players in the game, but Michigan also was without second-leading scorer Leigha Brown, who went on to miss the team’s next five games as well because of injury.

Freshman Laila Phelia, a highly touted recruit, stepped up in Brown’s absence, scoring a career-high 24 points.

The following day, the Wolverines climbed to No. 4 in the AP poll, their highest ranking ever.

Bump in the road

Without Brown, Michigan struggled on the road following its victory over Iowa at Crisler, especially offensively. After falling to Michigan State 63-57 on Feb. 10, it dropped a double-overtime thriller against Northwestern three days later. With two losses to unranked teams, the Wolverines’ Big Ten title chances took a hit.

Undefeated home record

Despite the two surprising losses, Michigan bounced back in its final two home games of the regular season. It outscored a ranked Maryland team 46-35 in the second half for a 71-59 win on Feb. 20 before upending MSU 62-51 on senior night. The Wolverines finished the regular season 14-0 at Crisler Center.

RELATED: Michigan women to put unbeaten home record on the line in NCAA Tournament

No banners, yet

Back-to-back victories kept Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes alive heading into the regular season finale at Iowa. Because its Feb. 3 postpone game at lowly Illinois was never made up, the Wolverines needed to beat the Hawkeyes on Feb. 27 to win their first conference championship. Instead, Michigan sputtered after a hot start and had no answer for Clark, the Big Ten Player of the Year and NCAA regular season scoring champion.

She scored 38 as the Hawkeyes handed the Wolverines their most lopsided loss of the season, 104-80.

With winning percentage determining the Big Ten standings, Michigan finished third with a 13-4 record, even though it beat Ohio State (14-4 conference record) in both meetings and split with Iowa (14-4).

Also in the loss to the Hawkeyes, Hillmon became the first basketball player at Michigan, man or woman, to reach the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound mark in a career.

Brown also returned to the lineup for the Iowa game but played just 14 minutes and scored nine points.

Another early exit in Big Ten Tournament

Michigan just missed out on its first Big Ten regular season title but had a chance to earn another banner after receiving a bye into the quarterfinals in the conference tournament.

The Wolverines have historically struggled in the Big Ten Tournament, even in some of their most successful seasons in program history.

That was the case again this year as they were upset by No. 6 seed Nebraska 76-73 in the quarterfinals.

Michigan overcame a slow start and took a 36-32 lead into halftime after trailing by as many as 14 in the first quarter, but it faltered down the stretch, squandering a 6-point lead with 6 minutes remaining.

The Wolverines still have never played in a Big Ten championship game.

Although Michigan lost four of its past six games, Barnes Arico said Sunday that the extra time between its loss to Nebraska and Saturday’s NCAA Tournament opener against American should be beneficial for her team.

“Getting healthy is first and foremost,” Barnes Arico said. “The losses, for the most part, have come down to the wire. They are one or two possession games, so we’ve been really working a ton on end of games, end of quarter situations, really trying to get better both offensively and defensively. We always talk about how we’re at our best when we’re limiting our turnovers, so working on taking care of the basketball.

“Transition defense has been another real point of emphasis. In the last couple of games, we’ve given up more points than we would have liked to, so really locking in on the defensive end.”

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