STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — The Michigan women's basketball players are close pals with the Wolverines volleyball team — the group that traveled West in December and reached the Final Four by ending Stanford's season in stunning fashion.
Kim Barnes Arico's underdog, senior-led group is seeking a similar upset Tuesday night, when the eighth-seeded Wolverines (22-10) face top-seeded Stanford (32-2) on the Cardinal's home court in Maples Pavilion for a spot in the Spokane Regional semifinals Saturday.
Point guard Jenny Ryan received a congratulatory text message after Sunday night's win against Villanova from Michigan volleyball coaches Mark and Leisa Rosen encouraging the team to keep it going.
"They just wished us all the best and kind of reminded us that it has been done before," Ryan said Monday. "And that anything is possible on any given night and just to represent Michigan well and play as hard as we can and the outcome will take care of itself. We just know that we have the support of each other, of our teammates, our coaching staff and the entire university."
Barnes Arico is plenty familiar with the Cardinal, who routed her St. John's team 75-49 in a surprisingly lopsided second-round loss at Maples two years ago. That game is still fresh.
And the task this time is equally daunting, even if Stanford lacks the same star power it had then. The Cardinal have won 18 straight games, are 27-4 at home in the NCAA tournament and are riding a seven-game unbeaten run on their own floor in tournament play.
They also feature one of the country's top players in Chiney Ogwumike, who scored 29 points in a 72-56 victory against No. 16 seed Tulsa in Sunday's first-round matchup. She is carrying the load a year after her older sister, Nneka, completed her collegiate career and became the WNBA's No. 1 overall draft pick and eventual league rookie of the year with the Los Angeles Sparks.
"They're incredibly athletic," Barnes Arico said. "Ogwumike, she has really turned it up since her sister departed."
Forwards Nya Jordan and Rachel Sheffer will draw the defensive duties on Ogwumike, with backside help from the guards.
Ogwumike elevated her game in the second half Sunday after the Cardinal went into intermission tied at 24. Then, Stanford produced a 48-point second half and shot a sizzling 65.5 percent (19 for 29) in the process.
Ogwumike is preparing for an even tougher opponent in Michigan — and knows playing just one strong half won't cut it.
"They're a very organized team. They have a lot of strengths, they're great shooters. Any open shots we can count on them making it," she said. "We know that they're going to play hard for 40 minutes."
Michigan has relied on its senior-led starting lineup to match the highest NCAA seeding in program history, and Barnes Arico has won at least one game in the tournament in all five of her career trips and four in a row. These Wolverines won't back down just because they aren't supposed to win.
Just look at what their volleyball team accomplished not far from here in Berkeley, Calif., in the NCAA tournament.
Unlike her St. John's team two years ago that struggled to score for minutes at a time, this Michigan bunch has a handful of capable shooters. The Wolverines also break their games down into 4-minute segments as a way to remind themselves one bad stretch can be overcome.
"You always reflect on that," Barnes Arico said of her 2011 loss here. "One of the most important things for our team right now is to believe that we can be successful. Let's not forget why we're here. ... We also have to realize we're playing a No. 1 seed, and they're a No. 1 seed for a reason."
Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer spent Monday making sure her players know exactly what to expect from Michigan's offense, which will screen and pass and do anything to find Kate Thompson an open look from 3-point range.
Thompson played a big part in Michigan returning to the NCAA tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000-01.
She is nearly a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range and has 110 3s this season.
"I've seen teams in Michigan's league leave No. 12 open. I don't think I would do that," VanDerveer quipped.
Villanova coach Harry Perretta gave Barnes Arico his insight on Stanford — and he believes it will take lots of 3s to beat the talented Cardinal.
"I was telling Kim that whoever has a chance to beat Stanford, I think you have to make at least 10 3s in the game to have a chance to win because you're not going to beat them inside because their inside players are way too tough," Perretta said. "You have to try to play them opposite. Michigan has the style that has a chance to win. Any time when you play a team, opposite styles are usually better."
Not that Michigan is counting on many uncontested looks from the perimeter for Thompson or Ryan.
"We know we have our hands full. We're playing against one of the best teams ever against one of the best coaches ever," Barnes Arico said. "We know we have nothing to lose."