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December 13, 2005 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-12-13

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Tuesday
December 13, 2005
sports. michigan daily. com
sports@michigandaily.com

PRTSitlh-ggn Egilu

9

Cagers get ready for
first ranked opponent

Uniforms to blame
for Varsity's woes

By Kevin Wright
Daily Sports Writer
Daniel Horton didn't play.
And Michigan lost.
Last season, when the Michigan men's basketball
team traveled to Pauley Pavilion, it came up just short,
falling 80-79 to an upstart UCLA team.
Though Michigan took a late six-point lead, the
Bruins stormed back in the final four minutes and
gained control of the game. Without its injured leader,
Michigan couldn't maintain the intensity needed to
finish strong..
This season, Horton has been instrumental in Michi-
gan's 7-0 start. The senior has consistently scored in dou-
ble digits while leading the team in steals and assists.
Horton's leadership will be critical for Michigan
heading into its marquee matchup against No. 14
UCLA (7-1) this Saturday at Crisler Arena. With Hor-
ton suiting up for the rematch, the Wolverines come
into the game healthy and ready to play.
"This year, we have no excuses," redshirt junior
Lester Abram said. "We come into games well pre-
pared, and, every game we come into, we feel like we
have a chance to win a basketball game."
Already, Michigan has reached heights it hasn't
experienced in years. The Wolverines' 7-0 start is the
best start since the 1997-98 season - when it won its
first eight before losing to Memphis. And this past
week,junior Courtney Sims earned Big Ten Player of
the Week honors. Sims is the first Michigan player to
claim the award since Horton received the accolade
three seasons ago on Feb. 24, 2003.
The Wolverines also stand on the cusp of a top-25
ranking. In the Associated Press poll that came out
yesterday, Michigan received 115 votes - the most
of any teams not ranked in the top 25. Michigan last

made a top-25 appearance during the 1996-97 season,
reaching its highest spot at 20.
Horton has exemplified this historical start by exud-
ing the poise that has propelled the Wolverines. At
Notre Dame on Dec. 3, Horton hit big three after big
three down the stretch to prevent Michigan from fall-
ing from the ranks of the unbeaten.
The Wolverines held a nine-point lead in that game
before the Irish mounted a comeback to take a five-
point advantage with three minutes left in the con-
test. But, unlike the UCLA game last year, Michigan
responded to the challenge and stormed back. The
Wolverines completed the comeback when Horton
drew the defense and found guard Dion Harris open in
the corner for the deciding basket.
Due in large part to Horton's composure under
pressure, Michigan has thrived in close games. And
the Wolverines have also maintained their aggressive
edge when the contest has already been decided.
Against South Florida last Saturday, Michigan held
a decisive advantage going into halftime. But instead
of coasting to an easy victory, the Wolverines contin-
ued to pressure the ball and play aggressively in the
second half.
"One of the things we've talked about is staying
focused and finish," Michigan coach Tommy Amaker
said. "We stayed with that throughout the ball game,
and I thought our kids really responded well."
Now, Michigan has a week to prepare for the Bru-
ins, who will provide a measuring mark for the Wol-
verines before they begin the Big Ten season on Jan. 3
against Indiana.
After coming to UCLA three seasons ago, Bruins
coach Ben Howland raised fans' expectations last year.
Howland led the Bruins to their first NCAA Tourna-
ment since 2002.
Howland and the Bruins have already played on

ALEX DZIADOSZ/Daily
Thanks to senior Daniel Horton's leadership, Michigan
is on the cusp of joining the top-25.
a national stage this season, participating in the pre-
season NIT. They lost to No. 3 Memphis 88-80 in the
semifinals - their lone loss of the season so far.
"It's going to be a big game for us," Abram said.
"It's an ESPN game. Dicky V's coming to town. I
haven't seen him, and I'm excited about that. We're
going to be excited to come out there and perform in
front of our fans."

i ts gotta be the uniforms.
How else can you explain Michi-
gan's unusual season?
The Wolverines' 7-4 record this
year is the team's worst
regular-season mark since
1994. Understandably,
many people have been
left scratching their heads.
in an attempt to figure
out exactly what went
wrong. Sure, it's easy to
call attention - as I have
- to Michigan's five late-
game defensive collapses
that allowed opponents
to win or tie games in the GA
final minute. But there EDEL
must be a deeper, more Hor
profound cause ... right? Ga
Well, after a close
examination, the Wol-
verines' new threads seem to be the
culprit. In the vein of the ESPN Classic
show, "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't
Blame," I present to you ''The Top 6
Reasons You Must Blame Michigan's
New Uniforms for the Wolverines'
Sub-Par Season." Each explanation will
eliminate another potential target of
finger-pointing from the equation until
no possible excuses remain. Let's take
a look:
1. You can't blame Mike Hart.
After Hart's jaw-dropping fresh-
man year - 1,692 all-purpose yards
and 10 total touchdowns - many
expected Michigan's star tailback
to challenge for the Doak Walker
Award, given annually to the nation's
best running back. Instead, Hart
managed to shoulder the bulk of the
Wolverines' rushing load in just four
games this year. Because of nagging
leg injuries throughout the season, he
amassed a disappointing 17 carries
for 36 yards against Notre Dame,
Iowa and Ohio State combined. Hart
didn't even see the field against East-
ern Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwest-
ern or Indiana. But it wouldn't be
fair to blame Hart and his 588-yard,
four-score campaign for Michigan's
woes. After all, sore hamstrings and
bum ankles are part of football, and
it can happen to anybody at any time.

kB
LS
ne
b

In addition, backups Jerome Jackson
and Kevin Grady proved capable in
Hart's absence. Most people tend
to believe that the running game is
more important than the
ball-carrier's uniform. I'm
not so certain.
2. You can't blame
Steve Breaston.
A redshirt junior wide
receiver, Breaston wasn't
healthy for much of the
beginning of the season.
An attempt to transform
him into the team's deep-
threat failed because
3E Breaston wasn't well
ON suited to the task. As a
natural return specialist
st who excels from the slot,
e Breaston stepped up his
play when he returned to
his familiar role. He picked up 85
percent of his receiving yardage over
the final six games of the regular
season. Against Indiana, Breaston
out-gained the entire Hoosiers team
with 201 all-purpose yards ... in the
first half. Is it fair to blame him for
being injured and playing an unfa-
miliar position? Probably not. Let's
move on.
3. You can't blame Chad Henne.
Michigan's quarterback endured
plenty of criticism during what
many perceived to be a "sopho-
more slump" Barring a 500-yard,
five-touchdown performance in the
Alamo Bowl, the sophomore will fall
short of his 2004 numbers. But many
don't give Henne credit for play-
ing superbly against Ohio State and
showing flashes of brilliance against
Michigan State, Penn State and Indi-
ana. Add in a number of drops by his
receivers, a quickly shrinking pocket
and the loss of Braylon Edwards, and
Henne's 20-touchdown, seven-inter-
ception season suddenly doesn't look
so terrible. I've heard people say that
Henne and his play are critical to the
Wolverines' fate on the gridiron. But
we all know that clothes make the
man.
4. You can't blame the offensive line.
See EDELSON, page 10

E ".

SUM ICE HOCKEY
Rohfsmakes smooth transition to D'

By Mark Giannotto
Daily Sports Writer
With a little more than eight minutes
remaining in the second period of Friday
night's game, Michigan defenseman Mark
Mitera collected a stray puck in front of
the Wolverines' net with Michigan cling-
ing to a 2-1 lead. The usually sure-handed
Mitera mishandled the puck, and it slid
right to Bill Thomas of Nebraska-Omaha.
But then, out of nowhere, a streaking
David Rohlfs poked the puck away from
Thomas, averting a potentially dangerous
situation..
All season, the junior defenseman has
been making plays that don't show up in
the stat box for the Wolverines.
"I try to get the puck out of our zone, and
be strong in our own zone," Rohlfs said.
. "I'm more of a stay-at-home defenseman.
I try to bring a physical presence and work
hard every day. I try to give the offense a
chance by clearing (the puck) out."
Ordinarily, a junior would have a firm

grasp on his role within the team. But
because Rohlfs spent his previous two
years at Michigan primarily playing for-
ward, he had to prove himself. After last
season, Michigan lost three defenders to
graduation and the coaching staff was
looking to put another veteran player in the
back.
"David has been a real solid player for
us this year" Michigan assistant coach Mel
Pearson said. "He's proven to the coaches
and his teammates that he is a good CCHA
defenseman."
But the transition from forward to defen-
seman was not as easy as the results seem
to indicate. The Northville native had to
completely change his mental approach to
the game.
"I think in my head that I have to go up
(on offense)" Rohlfs said. "But then I start
looking up, and I see three of our guys,
and I realize I'm a defenseman. My whole
life I've been going forward, and now I'm
going backwards."
Rohlfs has been paired with the fresh-

man Mitera the entire season, forming
one of the most formidable defensive
tandems in the CCHA. They are rare-
ly caught out of position because of
their penchant for staying back, even if
Rohlfs's forward pedigree would sug-
gest the opposite.
"(During Rohlfs's) first two years here at
Michigan, he was used in more of a defen-
sive role even as a forward," Pearson said.
"He was more of a checking forward, and
an energetic forward, who could chip in a
little bit offensively. We're not surprised
by his lack of production (offensively) on
defense because we don't look for him to
do that. We look for him to play good solid
defense."
Even though he is not a captain, the
junior is a leader by default because of
the number of young players on the team:
Mitera, especially, has benefited from
Rohlfs's presence.
"David has been a steadying force for
(Mitera):' Pearson said. "Any time you're
a freshman, there are a lot of questions you

have about yourself and the league. David,
having been here and been through it, he
can talk to (Mitera)."
Despite his success on defense this sea-
son, Rohlfs has not committed himself to
being a defenseman forever. He is adamant
in doing whatever it takes to win.
"I'll play wherever the team needs me,"
Rohlfs said. "I'll do whatever they need
me to do, and be wherever they need me to
be and do my best at it."
See ROHLFS, page 10

I

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