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March 03, 2004 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2004-03-03

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Wednesday
March 3, 2004
sports.michigandaily.com
sports@michigandaily.com

(Te irciigrn o&till
SPORTS

8

Indiana's resume hurt
by latest losing streak

Berenson pushes hard so
Gajic will reach potential

By Dan Rosen
Daily Sports Editor
It looked like the Indiana basketball
team had its season turned around.
After a slow, 6-6 start to the year, the
Hoosiers came into Crisler Arena in
early January and outlasted the Wolver-
ines 59-57. They reeled off
four Big Ten wins in a row
after that game to improveTO
to 11-6 and 5-1 in confer- Mic
ence play. In
But when Michigan Tme:
pours into Bloomington's Assem
Assembly Hall tonight, it ESP]
will find a team on the
ropes. Indiana (6-8 Big
Ten, 12-13 overall) has lost seven of its
last eight contests, including four
straight in its own building.
It's not like the Hoosiers haven't been
close. They took Iowa to double over-
time before falling by two points.
They've lost their last three games by a
heartbreaking nine points, combined.
"We just have to close games out
down the stretch," Indiana coach Mike
Davis said.
In the much-maligned Big Ten,

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though, Indiana's hope of an at-large
bid to the Big Dance has evaporated.
"The only way that we can get in the
(NCAA) Tournament is to win the (Big
Ten) Tournament," Davis said.
Michigan will probably be a wel-
come sight for the struggling Hoosiers.
If there's one thing they've been able to
count on over the last few
years, it's been knocking
IGHT off the Wolverines.
gan at Including this season's
iana meeting, Indiana has
:00 p.m. owned eight of the last 10
ly Hall between the two teams,
-Plus dating back to the 1999
season.
"That's been a place
that has always been tough to play at
over the years and a team that has really
seemed to have our number," Michigan
coach Tommy Amaker said.
The Hoosiers have had eight days to
marinate on tonight's game. They
haven't played since falling to North-
western 63-59 on Feb. 25 in Evanston.
Davis gave the team last Thursday
and Friday off. He hit the road himself
for a few recruiting trips.
"Really, it was a break for me just to

RYAN WEINER/Daily
Guard Daniel Horton and the Wolverines fell to Indiana, 59-57, and the win sparked
a four-game winning streak for the Hoosiers.

be able to get away from everything for
a couple of days," Davis said.
Michigan (7-7, 16-9) comes in with a
must-win mentality. Three wins over the
Wolverines' four-game home stretch
seems to have kept them on the bubble
for the Big Dance.

Amaker doesn't want his young team
to get caught up in thinking about
things that far down the road, though.
"We really have to focus on the
things that we can control," Amaker
said. "We think that winning can be a
by-product of staying in the moment."

M WOMEN'S BASKETBALL
Rapier hopes history can repeat itself for Blue

By Ellen McGarrity
Daily Sports Writer

Michigan women's basketball coach
Cheryl Burnett first met associate head
coach Karen Rapier nearly 20 years
ago. Rapier was a ninth grader, partici-
pating in a summer basketball camp in
Missouri. Burnett, then an assistant
coach for Southwest Missouri State,
was looking for up-and-coming talent.
"I had not seen a player play with the
passion, the spirit, or the effort that she
brought to the court," Burnett said.
Over the next three years, Rapier
fine-tuned her skills while Burnett -
who in the meantime had been promot-
ed to head coach at Southwest Missouri

State - followed the high schooler's
success. After graduation, Rapier joined
Burnett's team in 1989 as a power for-
ward. She was the first recruit Burnett
ever signed.
Coincidentally, the team Rapier
joined was very similar to the struggling
Michigan team (6-10 Big Ten, 13-16
overall) first-year coaches Burnett and
Rapier are trying to transform now. Dur-
ing Rapier's first year on the team, the
Lady Bears' record was 9-17 overall.
Four years later, when Rapier was a
senior, Burnett had given the team a
complete makeover and she would take
it to the NCAA Final Four that year.
"Watching a program transform from
not being very successful to exploding

was just incredible," Rapier said.
Rapier described Burnett as a coach
able to bring out the best in every player.
Rapier was no exception. Burnett called
Rapier - who averaged 10.8 points and
4.6 rebounds per game in her senior year
- the "heart and soul" of her team.
After graduation, both Rapier and
Burnett suspected it would be the end
of their close relationship. Rapier,
who had a degree in computer infor-
mation systems, went out to work in
corporate America.
But after just one year, she real-
ized basketball was her true love. In
1994, she returned to Burnett and the
Lady Bears as an assistant coach.
Over the next eight years, Burnett,

along with Rapier and the rest of her
staff, continued to churn out success-
ful teams, making 10 NCAA tourna-
ment appearances.
After taking a year off, Burnett came
to Michigan to head its ailing program.
Rapier followed, becoming associate
head coach.
"I always tailor job descriptions of
assistant coaches to what their
strengths are," said Burnett, describing
Rapier's job at Michigan. "Our com-
puter skills really separate us from
other programs siraply because of her
expertise. She's also instrumental in
our strength and conditioning program.
She recruits, she scouts, and of course
is one of the main coaches in terms of
X's and O's."
Rapier said she hopes that this coach-
ing staff can do the same for Michigan
that it did for her alma mater. She and
Burnett have already made strides
toward this goal in their first year,
improving the team's conference record
by three games and even setting the
school record for attendance at a
women's basketball game.
"We know what kind of electricity
can be generated with heart and passion
and teamwork," Rapier said.
For now, Rapier is excited to take on
the challenge of turning around the
Michigan program, but Burnett says she
would not be surprised if Rapier soon
becomes a head coach herself.
ICE HOCKEY

COURTNEY LEWIS
Full Court Press
t was a classic response from Red
Berenson.
"Well, up until last weekend, that
line was doing well, and then they didn't
do anything last weekend. So do you
want to talk about before last week?"
That's what Michigan's gruff hockey
coach said when asked yesterday about
volatile junior Milan Gajic.
Never mind that none of the Wolver-
ines did much last weekend, when
Michigan scored just three goals in two
losses at Notre Dame.
Never mind that Friday was just the
second time in 14 games that Gajic
didn't record a point, or that he's third
on the team in points with 12 goals and
16 assists.
Sometimes it seems as if Berenson
would sooner run naked through Yost
Ice Arena than praise the forward,
whose career has had more ups and
downs than a pogo stick.
"Everyone knows I haven't been
happy with Milan Gajic's contribution
here at Michigan, based on his talent
and his potential," Berenson said.
Gajic came from Burnaby, British
Columbia and was expected to be an
offensive force. Skill has never been an
issue. It's his effort that has been doubt-
ed. He's shown flashes of pure talent,
but has also displayed a unique ability to
disappear. He scored nine times as a
freshman, and then found himself sus-
pended for academic reasons early last
season and lost his touch until late. He
started this year by scoring just twice in
17 games. Gajic's inconsistency has
clearly frustrated Berenson.
"Guys are always giving me a hard
time about it," Gajic said of his rapport
with Berenson. "They think I've had
400 personal meetings with him already
in my college career."
But before you think things between
the two are icy-cold, listen to this:
"I like the kid," Berenson said, utter-
ing uncharacteristically positive words
about Gajic. "We get along fine; I think
he's a great kid."
Of course, he immediately followed
with a "but."
"But as a hockey player and as a
worker and a player that is playing up to
his potential and contributing to his
team, that's been my challenge and his
challenge."
This is their relationship: push and
pull, a study in contrasts. Junior Eric
Nystrom aptly labeled it "love-hate."
Having Berenson on his back gets

old, but it's exactly what Gajic needs.
"I know he's only doing it for my ben-
efit," Gajic says. "He obviously doesn't
have'to do it, but he does, so it's nice to
know that he's behind me and pushing
me all the time. It's nice to have him
there, yelling and screaming at me."
In fact, Berenson isn't the first to fill
that role. Gajic's father, Lazo, who emi-
grated from Serbia to Canada as an 18-
year old, did the same thing before
Milan moved across the continent.
"He's an old European, always has a
cigarette hanging out of his mouth,"
Gajic said of his dad. "He's the hardass
- if I can say that. It kind of translates
over from dad to coach."
Did Milan Gajic just call Red Beren-
son a father figure? That's something
you wouldn't expect to hear.
Nystrom, one of Gajic's housemates,
said something else that might surprise
people about Gajic is that "he's a big
family guy."
"He's really proud of his (Serbian)
background," Nystrom added. "He
speaks the language fluently, and he's so
proud of it that he's always razzing
everybody else, and everyone makes
fun of him for being Serbian."
If Gajic isn't talking about his her-
itage, chances are he's still talking
about something, and if you're any-
where in the vicinity, you'll hear him.
"He always has to get the last word in,
and when he does, it's loud," Nystrom
said. "He's hilarious. He's fun to be
around all the time, and I think his
demeanor really lightens our team up
and makes our team kind of gel."
Lately, Gajic has been doing a lot
more than keeping the dressing room
loose. Since winter break, he has been
contributing on the ice - consistently.
"The past few years, we didn't think
he was playing as hard as he possibly
could," Nystrom said. "When he started
catching fire (this season) is when we
really noticed that he was playing with a
little more edge, a little more grit.
"He's just an offensive phenom. It's
totally his decision whether he wants to
show that offensive flash and really
make a difference, or he can just hide in
the weeds a little bit."
Gajic said patience and confidence
have been two big reasons why he has
suddenly been the player Michigan
expects him to be. Berenson admitted
that Gajic "has had a big turnaround,"
but he doesn't know exactly why. And
he's not sure if Gajic will keep it up as
the Wolverines enter the stretch run.
It's always been more questions than
answers with Gajic. The only sure things
are that he'll keep it interesting, and that,
come up big or turn up missing, he'll
have Berenson on his case, pushing him
all the way.

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Defensive woes surfaced on road

By Brian Schick
Daily Sports Writer
After Michigan's 8-5 win over Miami
on Feb. 14, Michigan coach Red Beren-
son wasn't happy with his team's per-
formance. It may seem unusual that the
winning coach had a reason to be upset
after his team netted eight goals, but
Berenson realized the potential problem
in his team's defensive play.
"I can't tell you we're happy with
the way we played," Berenson said
after the game. "We're not. How can
you be happy when you give up five
goals at home?"
The players were aware of their
coach's disappointment.

"Coach isn't happy about giving up
five goals in any game," freshman
defenseman Matt Hunwick said. "It was
something we were aware of heading
into the Notre Dame weekend."
The problem was that against the
RedHawks - who led the CCHA at the
time - his defense allowed five goals,
which normally dooms a team.
Flash forward to this past weekend.
Michigan traveled to South Bend, where
it allowed nine goals and dropped both
contests. The Miami game was a poor
showing for the defense, but it was dis-
guised due to the win. After getting
swept by Notre Dame, it emerged as
more of a problem.
"I think the last few weeks before

Notre Dame, we were letting up some
goals and not playing our game,"junior
defenseman Brandon Rogers said. "But
we were getting away with it because
we were scoring so many goals."
Once the offense dried up last week-
end, the goals that the Wolverines
allowed cost the team two wins and a
chance to wrap up the CCHA regular
season title.
In the month of February, Michigan
allowed 26 goals over eight games. This
included three five-goal games.
Playing on the road didn't help
Michigan's chances. The team has
struggled to score goals on the road
this season. As a result, the defense can
never really allow four and five goals-
against away from home. The tough-
ness on defense was missing in
Friday's 4-1 loss.
"Something about last weekend we
weren't prepared for," Hunwick said.
"We didn't come out with a lot of inten-
sity (on Friday). Our coverage was all
right, but it wasn't good enough to win
down there:'
With just two regular-season games
left, time is running out, but improve-
ments can still be made before the post-
season starts. This weekend's matchup
with Michigan State will be a good test
for the Wolverines before the impor-
tance of every game increases.
"We have to tighten up defensively or
else we're not going to have a chance,
Rogers said. "Every team we're going
to play is playing their best hockey of
the season."

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