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February 09, 2005 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-02-09

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February 9,20 5
sports. michigandaily.com
sports@michigandaily.com

SPORTS

I

10

Cagers can't hold
off No. 1 Illinois

What does a moral
victory look like?

By Josh Holman
Daily Sports Editor
Despite being Michigan's seventh
straight loss, last night's 57-51 defeat to
No.1 Illinois proved to be a change of pace
for Michigan. But some of the same prob-
lems that have haunt-
ed the Wolverines IL"N1s5®
(3-7 Big Ten, 12-12 ""H'AN 51
overall) during their
losing streak may have been the difference
between an upset and just another loss.
Illinois guard Dee Brown scored 16
points last night to lead the Fighting Illini
(10-0,24-0). But it was seven of his points
in particular that swung the balance of
the game.
With Michigan clinging to a 39-35 lead
with under ten minutes remaining in the
second half, Brown turned the game com-
pletely around with three steals in four pos-
sessions, leading to three layups and a free
throw. The final layup and free throw gave
Illinois a 42-41 lead. The turnaround was
part of a 12-3 run that built up a lead for
Illinois that it would not surrender.
"It's just the way it happened," Brown
said. "I got up in the lanes, just trying to
make plays. They just fell my way."
The plays had been falling Michigan's
way prior to that point, much to the sur-
prise of the 13,751 people in attendance
at Crisler Arena. Michigan's game plan
of slowing down the pace to a near crawl
worked for three-fourths of the game, giv-
ing the unranked Wolverines a chance
to threaten the Fighting Illini and their
unbeaten record.

"(What) we needed to do for us was
to shorten the game," Michigan coach
Tommy Amaker said. "We sold our kids
on the idea that, if the game is shortened,
it becomes an opportunity for the under-
dog - or the team less talented in a lot
of ways - to have a chance to put game
pressure on them."
The Wolverines milked time on almost
every possession, barely even looking for
a shot before 10 seconds remained on the
shot clock. Despite falling behind early, the
strategy seemed to work.
The Wolverines shot 47.5 percent
from the field - a combination of open
looks down low and clutch 3-point shoot-
ing. Sophomore forward Courtney Sims
anchored the post, scoring 15 points on 6-
for-7 shooting. Outside the paint, Michigan
hit 6-of-14 shots from beyond the 3-point
arc, led by a 3-for-7 effort from sophomore
Dion Harris.
"It was one of my more solid games,"
Harris said. "I think I stayed within the
game plan. I let things come to me today,
and it worked out better for our team:'
Harris finished the game with 21 points
and seven rebounds. Harris also turned the
ball over just once, a change from the turn-
over problems that have plagued the Wol-
verines during their seven-game skid.
"I thought Dion played his heart out,"
Amaker said. "I thought he gave us every-
thing he had. ... His play was a reason we
had a chance to hang in there."
But Michigan did have difficulty from
the free throw line. It shot just 7-for-14 from
the charity stripe.
The Fighting Illini flexed their No. 1

RYAN WEINER/Daily
Junior Chris Hunter had 10 points and five rebounds in Michigan's loss to Illinois.

ranking early in the game, building an 11-3
lead by the first media timeout. But Michi-
gan was not intimidated and put together a
string of runs that kept it in the game.
First came a 5-0 run that chipped into
Illinois's lead and closed the gap to 18-13.
Then Michigan went on a 13-1 run in the
final 6:39 of the first half - its largest run
of the game.
Harris controlled the end of the first
half, hitting two 3-pointers and finding
junior Graham Brown under the basket for
a layup during the stretch.
Harris led all scorers with 12 points in
the first half and exceeded his final output

from each of the last three games, when he
was held under double digits.
The Wolverines took over the lead on
a basket from sophomore Courtney Sims
and carried a 28-24 advantage into the
second half.
The loss may have had its share of heart-
break, but it looked nothing like the last six
losses Michigan has suffered, all by more
than nine points.
"It will be interesting to see if they con-
tinue to play like this or if they go back to
their regular style," Illinois coach Bruce
Weber said. "You never know, we might
play them in the (Big Ten) Tournament."

MEGAN KOLODGY
Megology 101
hen the buzzer went off
to signal the end of last
night's men's basketball
game against No. 1 Illinois, Crisler
Arena erupted in cheers. Michigan
had finally done it - it gave the
Maize and Blue faithful a reason to
show up at games.
Funny thing is, the Wolverines
didn't win. They extended their los-
ing streak to seven, dropped to .500
for the season and stretched the
Fighting Illini's win streak to 24.
But it didn't feel like it.
Michigan's 57-51 loss to the
team that is widely considered to
be the best in the nation - and the
only one that remains undefeated
in the NCAA - is a moral victory
for a team that, in each of its last
three games, has lost by at least
17 points. These defeats did not
come against good teams, either.
With each of these embarrassing
blowouts, the Wolverines' confi-
dence sank to a new low, and coach
Tommy Amaker and his team had
fewer and fewer answers as to why
their season was spiraling out of
control.
No one was surprised that Michi-
gan lost to Illinois, an obviously
superior team. But everyone was
shocked that Michigan, at this time,
the lowest point of its season, could
hang with the Fighting Illini.
Last night, the Wolverines exhib-
ited something that they hadn't
shown in a long time - swagger.
Even prior to the game, they looked
different. They weren't just going
through the motions of warm-
ups - they attacked their layups
with vim. If Michigan was a horse
parading around pre-race in a pad-
dock, and it had to face the defend-
ing Triple Crown champion, you'd
have almost bet on it to win.
During the game, Michigan shot
with confidence. And for once,
players besides sophomore spark-
off-the-bench and crowd favorite
Brent Petway grabbed rebounds as
if they thought that they were criti-
cal, instead of just automatically

hustling back on defense. They held
a typically high-scoring team to its
lowest final score of the season.
They also ran something of an
efficient offense and more than
tripled their assists from Saturday's
game - which isn't saying much
as they had just four against Ohio
State. But again, we're talking
moral victories here. The assists
illustrate that Michigan played as a
team in the way that it has not been
able to do since the beginning of its
losing streak.
Michigan was cognizant, capable
and determined - a shocking com-
bination considering that all the
stats, all the film and the team's
overall defeated attitude these last
few weeks would indicate that it
was anything but.
And a team probably never
looked as relieved after a loss. In
the locker room, usually stoic soph-
omore Courtney Sims - whose
consistent shooting helped keep
the Wolverines even keel - nearly
cracked a smile and mentioned
that he and sophomore Dion Har-
ris were bantering about how good
they felt about the potential that
this game held for them before tak-
ing the court.
The Wolverines attributed their
loss (win) to finally listening to
Amaker and "executing" the way
that Amaker has apparently been
prescribing throughout Michigan's
slump.
"I think they believed in what we
were going to try to do tonight,"
Amaker said of his team. "I thought
that this was one of the keys - that
we worked hard instituting this
game plan."
And apart from Michigan's ther
sad 50-percent performance rom
the free-throw line and the minia-
ture "Fundamentals of the Steal"
clinic that Illinois' Dee Brown ran
in the middle of the second half
- three steals in four possessions
that pushed Illinois into the lead
that probably lost the game for
Michigan - it did execute.
The problem is, no one seems
to know what made things click
for the Wolverines. Amaker said
they finally "sold their kids" on the
notion of slowing the game down,
but why now? Why not after a 29-
point loss to winless-in-the-Big Ten
Purdue? Why not after the loss at
home to Minnesota?
See KOLODGY, page 12

* WOMEWS cAK tiLLg

By Matt Venegoni
Daily Sports Writer

The margins of defeat for the Michigan women's bas-
ketball team its past two games: 21 and 15.
At first glance, it looks like the Wolverines are regress-
ing from where they were earlier in the Big Ten season. But
a harder look at those games shows that, while Michigan
may not be notching marks in the win column, the fresh-
men are learning valuable lessons that they can use down
the road.
Freshman forward Ta'Shia Walker is the prime exam-
ple. She went up against Minnesota center Janel McCar-
ville - an All-American and Wooden Award candidate
- in Sunday's game. Walker did not score a single point
and fouled out of the game with 3:38 remaining, but she
believes that her experience will make her better the next
time she faces a premier player.
"Janel is a very good player, and I like playing against
her," Walker said. "I think it will better prepare me down

the road as I get older and (gain) more experience to know
how to play players of her caliber."
One of the main problems for Walker and Michigan
going into - and during - the game was the Wolverines
lack of height and size. The Gophers boasted a frontcourt of
6-foot-2 McCarville, 6-foot-3 forward Jamie Broback and
5-foot-ll forward Shannon Bolden. The bigger Gophers
were able to control the boards throughout the game, out-
rebounding Michigan 33-23. More importantly, Minnesota
moved much of its offense through its post players, leading
to many high-percentage field goal opportunities.
"We tried to not let McCarville and the other posts go
where they wanted," Walker said. "Because we are smaller
everyone wants to push around under the basket, we tried
to avoid that."
In the first half, Michigan kept the Gophers' post players
from going where they wanted to. But the second half was
a different story. Minnesota controlled the tempo and got
the ball to McCarville to pull away from the Wolverines.
"We knew, coming into the second half, that they

would definitely go back to their inside game," Burnett
said. "But they have a great combination of talent. So we
were trying to give help to the post play, but you have play-
ers off their bench, (Katie Alsdurf) for them, touching the
ball making threes."
Once the Gophers pulled away and the game was out of
reach, the Wolverines did not give up. The last five minutes
of the previous two games have been good opportunities
for Burnett and the rest of the staff to implement a different
part of their game plan. Instead of launching haphazard
3-pointers, the team worked on its offensive sets and pres-
sure defense.
"We have told our kids that we want them to play hard
all the way through 0:00, and they are doing it," Burnett
said. "That style of play with this particular group, we are
really using it for experience.
"We are really coaching all the way through to the end
on exactly we want to be doing and not be doing and what
position we want to be in, because that, eventually, is going
to be our style for 40 minutes in this program."

Gajic thrives on numerous superstitions

By Ian Herbert
Daily Sports Editor
When the Michigan hockey team takes
the ice before every game, several of the
Wolverines have their own routines. Soph-
omore T.J. Hensick is always the second-to-
last player to leave the rink after warm-ups,
senior captain Eric Nystrom is always the
second-to-last player onto the ice before
player introductions and senior Eric Wer-
ner is always the second-to-last player into
the huddle around the net. Freshman Chad
Kolarik is always the first player on the
bench and senior Nick Martens is always
the second-to-last guy off the blue line
after the national anthem.
But senior Milan Gajic trumps them all.
Gajic is the last guy off the ice, the last one
on, the last one off the blue line and the last
in the huddle. And it doesn't stop there.
"Where do you want to start?" Gajic
said. "The week before? Two days

before? You're laughing, but no, it's
bad.... I got everything from how I fall
asleep to what I eat."
He makes sure that he always gets a bag
of Haribo Alphabet Letter Gummies a
couple of days before the weekend. If they
don't have the candies at Campus Corner
he goes across the street to Blue Front.
And if they're sold out, then it's off to CVS,
which, luckily for Gajic, is open 24 hours
per day.
So what about sleeping? What supersti-
tions does he have about going to bed?
"Oh, I can't tell youithat," Gajic joked.
But the list goes on and on. On game
days, Gajic takes his superstitions even
further. Like most of his teammates, Gajic
takes a pregame nap. But he wakes up every
day to the same, ironic song - "Head-
strong" by Trap. The song wakes up both
Gajic and Nystrom, who live in the same
house. Gajic always wears his tie loose and
his top button unbuttoned to the game.

"And I don't think he wears socks on
game days," Nystrom said.
One of Gajic's biggest superstitions is
making his mom call him from British
Columbia on game days at 5 p.m., and
making his dad call at 5:15 p.m. His mom
tells him to be careful and to make sure he
doesn't hurt anybody. Then his dad tells
him to score a goal, get an assist and hurt
anyone who comes near him.
"They live in the same house, but they
can't talk to me at the same time," Gajic
said. "It's funny because you can hear them
in the background when the other one is
calling."
His mom, Helen, said that she started
calling him from work when he was play-
ing junior hockey. Milan wouldn't let her
off the phone until she said the things that
she said every week.
"Because I was at work, sometimes, it
was very inconvenient," Helen said. "But it
doesn't matter. It has to be done."

Gajic's superstitions started after a good
game in junior hockey in which his under-
dog team won 5-4. Actually, Gajic won the
game; he scored all five goals.
"From there, I think that started every-
thing," Gajic said. "That was pretty much it
right there, and, since then, as long as I can
remember, it's been pretty much like that."
None of his teammates have ever tried to
stop him from doing his routine, so it has
never been a problem. For two games dur-
ing his first year of junior hockey he had to
wear No. 13 instead of his traditional No. 9
because a veteran on the team had his num-
ber. But his teammate was traded a couple
days later, and Gajic wore No. 9 the next
game. But what will he do at the pro level
if he can't keep his superstitions?
"The next level I'll be kind of the rookie,
right?" Gajic said. "So I pretty much have
to do what they tell me. But I'll try to do
as much as I possibly can without pissing
anybody off."

RYAN WEINER/Daily
Senior Milan Gajic is always the last player into the huddle before games - one
of his many superstitions.

i ' .

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