February 2, 2005
e tidti n hmiag
Cagers to square
off in must-win
Role players arefine,
but M' needs stars
By Josh Holman
Daily Sports Editor
It's definitely raining on the boat that is
the Michigan men's basketball season. Now
the only thing left to be seen is whether the
Wolverines will jump ship or grab buckets
and start bailing water..
Michigan (3-4 Big Ten,
12-9 overall) is coming
off Saturday's embar-
rassing 84-55 road loss M'
- its fourth consecutive, u e:
making the longest such
streak of the season. E3
The Wolverines will
return home tonight to take
on Minnesota (4-3, 14-6) in what some
people are grumbling might already be a
must-win game for the Wolverines.
"I do think, obviously, it's an impor-
tant game, from a lot of different areas
for our team," Michigan coach Tommy
Amaker said. "I'm sure if you're Min-
nesota, you're looking at it as a win-
nable road game ... Both teams are
looking at it as an opportunity to win a
After allowing Purdue to notch its
first win in conference play, the Wolver-
ines are trying to avoid falling out of the
action in the Big Ten. What could have
earlier been considered an easy stretch
in the schedule has suddenly become
a series of games that Michigan has to
win to keep its hopes up for an NCAA
"We came back (Monday) and told
coach some things we wanted to do, and
he agreed with a lot of things," sophomore
Brent Petway said. "We all came out with
our heads up and had a great practice
(Monday). And we are just ready to turn
it up and get a win (tonight)."
But the Wolverines will have to do
more than change their attitude just to
pull out a win at Crisler Arena. Sun-
day's thumping in West
Lafayette was more than
just a few minor set-
backs. At the game's end,
it looked as if Michigan
would need a total over-
haul to get back on track.
may be one of the biggest
problems that the Wolver-
ines need to remedy. Opponents have
garnered at least 11 offensive rebounds
in Michigan's last five games.
"We can't let them get those easy
offensive rebounds," junior tri-captain
Graham Brown said. "That's what has
been killing us."
The Golden Gophers are currently
fifth in the conference in offensive
rebounding at 10.95 per game. If Michi-
gan can hold that number down, it just
might show signs of improvement.
But despite all the negatives Michigan
has to improve on this week in practice,
Amaker and his staff actually wanted to
highlight the positives that they could
take from the loss at Purdue.
"We wanted to pull all the posi-
tives things that we felt that we did do
well, and we wanted them to see that,"
Amaker said. "So we wanted them to
see what we want done. I think it's more
important to see what we want to have
Sophomore John Andrews came off the bench in Sunday's 84-55 loss at Purdue.
The reserves scored 26 of Michigan's 55 points, one of the few bright spots.
happen as opposed to ... the things they
didn't do very well."
Michigan's bench play is one thing
that has worked for the Wolverines.
Nonstarters scored 26 of Michigan's 55
points. Junior forward Chris Hunter led
the way off the bench with 11 points.
While Michigan has brought a balanced
scoring attack to the table, the Golden
Gophers have rallied behind two players.
Minnesota has nine freshmen on its ros-
ter, and the play of junior Vincent Grier
and senior Jeff Hagen has held the team
together. Grier averages 16.5 points and
5.4 rebounds per game while Hagen adds
11.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.
The pressure is on to keep pace with
the rest of the Big Ten, and tonight's
game may be a good barometer for just
how good the Wolverines can be.
"(Tonight) will be a good opportu-
nity for us to come out and get a win,"
sophomore Dion Harris said. 'We have
nine games left."
Mattu fast, Mattu furious
The Michigan men's basketball
team won't make the NCAA
Tournament this year, and ...
What's that? You already knew this?
Well, let me finish.
... and injuries won't be the reason.
Yes, the Wolverines have played vir-
tually the entire season without Lester
Abram and have gone extended stretches
without Daniel Horton, Chris Hunter and
Graham Brown. And yes, players who
were never supposed to set foot on the
floor are playing and even starting.
But just two weeks ago, Michigan was
playing its best basketball of the season,
3-0 in Big Ten play and heading into
Bloomington. The Wolverines seemed
to have survived all the injuries and were
set to take off.
But the Wolverines lost a game that
was closer than the final score (62-53)
indicates. While a lot of people imme-
diately wondered who would have won
if Abram and Hunter had been healthy, I
thought exactly the opposite.
No matter who was healthy and who
was injured, Michigan was going to lose,
and it was probably going to be a close
game. That's just what always seems
to happen to Michigan against Indiana,
even though both teams have been pretty
much mediocre the last couple of years.
But then that's pretty much where
Michigan basketball is right now. Year
after year, nothing seems to change..
Entering the season, the Wolverines
were widely expected to take the next
step and, at the very least, make the
They were losing a solid all-around
player in Bernard Robinson and bring-
ing in only one freshman, Ron Coleman,
who was hardly expected to be a high-
But all of Michigan's returning players
were supposed to be a year wiser, a year
stronger and a year better. Horton was
supposed to have gotten over his sopho-
more slump, as he seemed to do during
the team's postseason NIT run. And
sophomores Dion Harris and Courtney
Sims were supposed to have settled into
their roles and were supposed to become
forces in the Big Ten.
But what happened last year to Hor-
ton is happening this year to Harris and
Sims; players that came to Ann Arbor
with the highest apparent ceiling seemed
to have abruptly leveled off after their
Horton's troubles, both legal and
injury-related, are well-documented, but
both Harris and Sims have been healthy
this entire season and have failed to fully
establish themselves despite appearing
ready to take their games to the next level.
Harris raised his level of play late last
season when Abram gave him his start-
ing spot, and Sims, who seemed to run
out of gas as the season ended, gained 25
pounds of muscle to address the problem.
But little has changed. Like Horton,
Harris never seems truly comfortable
running the offense and far too often
finds himself with the ball late in the
shot clock trapped behind the three-point
line. Last season, and at the start of this
season, Harris seemed like the kind of
player who would welcome the chance
to take over games, the way his team
needs him to without Abram and Hor-
ton. He seemed like the type of player
who would play better with the ball in
his hands more and more. But not only
hasn't he taken charge, he's hitting just
35 percent of his shots and has just 74
assists to go with 60 turnovers.
Sims's role on the team also seems
to fluctuate all the time. After a strong
start, Sims's playing time took a dive until
Michigan's other big men got hurt, and
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker had no
other choice but to play him.
But no matter what Sims does, he
leaves everyone wanting more. He's cur-
rently hitting 57 percent of his field-goal
attempts and 72 percent of his free throws,
yet only takes about seven shots a game. .
Michigan's role players have been
impressive this season. Coleman
bounced right back from a bad start and
has been reliable ever since, and sopho-
more walk-on John Andrews has done
a solid job. Big men Brown, Hunter and
Brent Petway have done a great job pro-
viding Michigan with toughness, scoring
and explosiveness, respectively.
But in the end, role players can only do
so much. Stars matter more in basketball
than any other sport. When the shot clock
is running down, when the game is com-
ing to an end, teams need reliable players
to get the job done in crunch time, and
Michigan just doesn't have that right now.
Maybe expectations were too high for
Horton, Harris and Sims. Though they
seem to play hard, they might not want
to be great players badly enough. Maybe
they don't know how to get better, and
the coaches don't know, either. But one
thing is for sure: Until something chang-
es, Michigan just won't be that good.
Tambellini more than just a scorer
By Gabe Edelson
Daily Sports Writer
After Saturday's 3-1 loss to then-No. 4 Michigan,
Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle heaped praise on
a certain Wolverine.
"I thought (Jeff) Tambellini was the best player on
the ice," Kyle said. "He played exceptionally well. He
was, without a doubt, the most dangerous player."
Strange, considering that Tambellini - who ranks
second on the team with 32 points and is known
mostly for his offensive skills - was held without
a single point over the two-game weekend series. So
why was Kyle so complimentary to the junior alter-
"There's a chance for him to score every time he
touches the puck," junior Andrew Ebbett said. "That's
a great asset for the team to have."
Tambellini touched the puck plenty of times
over the weekend, keeping the Northern Michi-
gan defenders honest and aware at all times. He
fired shots on net early and often, beginning with
a rocket just five minutes into Friday's game that
was snagged by Wildcats goalie Tuomas Tarkki.
His eight shots in the series were the most of any
player on either team.
But that's nothing new to Tambellini, who has
led Michigan in shots on goal in each of his previ-
ous two seasons in Ann Arbor. He currently leads
the Wolverines with 135 shots this year, a remark-
able 44 more than Brandon Kaleniecki, who ranks
second. But Tambellini insists that his shots were
"They were quality shots," Tambellini said. "Some-
times you're throwing pucks through traffic, and some
nights they hit a stick that goes down. Some nights
they just find a way to go through."
Michigan goalie Al Montoya knows just how
threatening Tambellini can be when he has the puck
in the offensive zone. Montoya faces Tambellini
every day in practice. The two often go head-to-
head in a lighthearted drill where Michigan players
skate in alone in an attempt to get the puck past the
netminder. Though Montoya stops most of the shots
he faces, Tambellini comes out on top more than
most other Wolverines.
"If you give (Tambellini) anything, he's going to
put it there," Montoya said. "You just have to bring
your best (as a goalie). You need an extra focus. He
can come in with speed and release the puck without
you even knowing it's being released.
"It's more of a privilege that I have to come out here
and take shots from him, because he makes me better.
And I hope to think that I make him better."
But Tambellini wants to be known as more than
simply an offensive powerhouse. Over the summer, he
paid extra attention to improving his play on the defen-
sive side of the puck. Thus far, Tambellini has shown
progress in his quest to become a complete player.
"I've been really trying to concentrate over the off-
season," Tambellini said. "(I've been) paying atten-
tion to defensive hockey and being a player that can
See TAMBELLINI, page 10
Sharad Mattu can be reached at
Three-pointers not the answer for Blue
ON WOMEN'S HOOPS
Some teams live or die by the 3-pointer.
For the Michigan women's basketball team, it's more
as if the triples keep it on life support, and it's only a mat-
ter of time before the plug gets pulled.
Against Wisconsin on Sunday, the Wolverines fell
behind by 20 points in the second half before a barrage of
3-pointers brought them back within seven. But this was
no help, and the Badgers downed Michigan 79-71.
In total, the Wolverines hit 12 treys against Wisconsin,
setting a new school record - the second time this year
the team has eclipsed the old record of 10. Earlier in the
season, during its 70-60 loss to Michigan State, Michigan
bucketed 11 from behind the arc to break the mark.
In the Michigan State game, the long-range shoot-
ing actually allowed the team to take a lead late in the
first half. Then the shots stopped falling, and the offense
looked helpless. At times, the team went minutes without
scoring, including a five-minute drought to start the half.
Finally -just like the Wisconsin game - the 3-pointers
became a last-ditch effort for the Wolverines. Their last
four baskets came from downtown, which only served to
make the game look more respectable in the end.
"We're not playing with any sense of urgency until we
get down by double digits, " Michigan coach Cheryl.Bur-
nett said after a Dec. 28 loss to Oakland.
"Scoring does not come easily for this basketball
The tendency to shoot from the outside comes from an
inability to penetrate and get inside the lane. Michigan
often looks to have no real purpose on an offensive pos-
session. The team forces up shots from well behind the
arc, looking desperate just to make a play on offense. The
Wolverines have taken 331 shots from downtown this
year, second most in the Big Ten, but are ranked sixth in
That is not to say the team needs to work on making
3-pointers to win games. Rather, the young Wolverines
just need to wean themselves off relying on the three-ball
During the 63-61 win against Indiana on Jan. 23, the
team played with much more heart than it had in recent
games. The team proved that, even when it struggles from
behind the arc, hitting just 3-of-16 from downtown, it can
still compete. Michigan hustled all game and managed
to find ways to work the ball down low. The Wolverines
committed themselves to handling the ball better and had
just 12 turnovers.
Essentially, the team did the "little things" necessary
to win. The Wolverines gave it their all that day, diving
on loose balls, grabbing offensive rebounds and, more
importantly, making sure every possession down the
Indiana is not one of the better teams in the Big Ten,
and no one should expect Michigan to go out and beat No.
3 Ohio State or No. 10 Michigan State. But it still needs to
bring that same passion to every game.
It's understandable, with this young and undersized
team, that it is easy for the Wolverines to look to 3-pointers
as the remedy to all their problems. But by doing this, they
rely on chance rather than skill and effort to win games.
If, instead, the team concentrates on doing those "little
See HERMAN, page 10
DAV ID TUMAN/Daily
Senior Tabitha Pool is shooting just 33 percent from 3-point range this season.