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Feb 15, 2017

On February 18, 2012 St. John’s University traveled to Gampel Pavilion, and knocked off a UConn team that was going for its 100th consecutive home court victory, 57-56 on a Shenneika Smith three-pointer with time running down. This week the eyes of the women’s basketball world were again on Gampel and UConn’s quest for 100, although it was 100 consecutive regardless of location this time.

Meanwhile, in Ann Arbor, Kim Barnes-Arico, the coach of that St. John’s team that beat the Huskies, has the University of Michigan women’s basketball program on the rise. They sit with a 20-5 record, 12-0 at home, and only two wins from the Michigan season victory record.  Currently they are ranked number 20 in both polls, third in the Big 10 behind Maryland and Ohio State.

That 2012 season was Barnes-Arico’s last at St. John’s, culminating in a Sweet Sixteen appearance, before moving to Ann Arbor. In her fifth season now, the Wolverines have won 20 games in each season, and, after three consecutive WNIT appearances, are projected as a six seed in ESPN’s current bracketology.

Her team’s improvement has been gradual; she has really been building this team over the last few years and she has been doing it by getting kids to believe that Michigan is a place that you can be successful.  Barnes-Arico has them wanting to be the "first" to do something; first to hang a banner, first to win the conference, and do things that haven't been done before.

Balance is a key to their success, and it has come with pieces that were recruited and emerged one year at a time.  Senior point guard Siera Thompson came first, followed by the junior; leading scorer Katelynn Flaherty and all-hustle, all-everything player Jillian Dunston. Sophomore Hallie Thome is a force in the paint. Freshman Kysre Gondrezick has joined the fray this year, and may be the biggest difference maker in the program’s history.

Gondrezick was highly recruited out of high school, with basketball pedigree in her blood, and was Michigan Miss Basketball. The local kid stayed home though, and chose Michigan. Much like Nykesha Sales at UConn or A’ja Wilson at South Carolina, getting that local star to stay when they could go elsewhere can be a huge jump start for a program on the rise.

It is a pleasure to welcome Barnes-Arico back to Dishin & Swishin. It is always a pleasure to talk to the coach, and you can feel her enthusiasm and excitement about the team, the process of building a winner, and enjoyment of the success they are achieving.

Of their five losses, Barnes-Arico says on the podcast, four were to teams that were ranked 11th or higher when they met: Florida State, UCLA, Ohio State, and Maryland. The fifth was an upset at Xavier, a game Barnes-Arico says she probably should not have scheduled; it was their fifth neutral court or road game in a row, right after the holiday tournament in the Virgin Islands where they played Florida State and Gonzaga, then a road game at Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big 10 challenge. She is not making excuses; just stating her case for a good tournament seeding when asked to.

As the Big 10 conference re-invents itself with coaches like Barnes-Arico, Kevin McGuff, and Brenda Frese, it is easy to see how Michigan can leave a lasting imprint on the national scene as early as this year.

Enjoy the podcast!

 

Photo courtesy University of Michigan Athletics