WACO, Texas (AP) - Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico has no doubt that Katelynn Flaherty’s jersey will hang in the rafters at Ann Arbor one day.
For now, the senior guard and Wolverines’ career scoring leader is still in her first NCAA Tournament. Michigan plays Sunday night at No. 2 Baylor (32-1).
“It broke my heart last year when we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament,” Arico said Saturday. “Because I wanted so much for that team, especially for Katelynn, to be showcased on the national scene because of the player that she is, what she can do for our team, what she can do with the basketball in her hands, her ability to score as a 5-foot-7 guard.”
After the WNIT each of the last three seasons, Michigan (23-9) is in its first NCAA Tournament since 2013. The Wolverines were WNIT champs last year, when Flaherty was the MVP with 27 points in the title game.
The Wolverines beat NCAA first-timer Northern Colorado 75-61 to advance and play Baylor, which is looking to sweep first- and second-round games at home for the sixth year in a row - and trying to get to their 10th straight Sweet 16. The Lady Bears opened with a 50-point win over Grambling, when post players Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox both had double-doubles.
“It definitely gives us an advantage, the fact that a lot of us have been there before,” Baylor senior Dekeiya Cohen said.
Still, Michigan likely won’t be intimated by the atmosphere at Baylor. The Wolverines faced top-five competition on the road in Louisville and Notre Dame, and defeated its most hated rival, then-No. 8 Ohio State, on its home floor.
“We are fortunate this year we had an opportunity to go to Ohio State after losing a tough one to them in overtime at home and beating them on their home court in front of a crazy crowd in a big rivalry game,” Arico said. “Our kids know that it’s possible.”
Baylor coach Kim Mulkey and Arico showed tremendous respect for each other Saturday, partly because of how they’ve build their respective basketball programs, and their experiences of balancing coaching and motherhood.
“I think it’s really important for my own children, but for the players in our program, to have role models and mentors,” Arico said. “For me watching her and being able to see what she’s done here for this program, or Muffet McGraw, Pat Summitt, those are such great role models and inspiration to women and young girls.”
Mulkey said Arico “does it the right way,” and the Baylor coach had some gifts for Arico’s children.
“I’m going to leave here now and take her three children Easter baskets,” Mulkey said. “That’s not an NCAA violation, is it?”
The Wolverines will have to figure out a way to slow down Brown. Hallie Thome, Michigan’s 6-4 post, knows Brown after playing with her at the USA Basketball Under-23 camp.
“I had the opportunity to play against her this summer in USA,” Thome said. “It’s a fun battle when you’re playing someone your size and ability.”
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