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February 16, 2006 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-02-16

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Thursday
February 16, 2006
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily.com

PORT iS tgan 3tilg

01

8A

w . .. .. . .. .

Cagers bury the Gophers

Welcome back: Man-to-man
de fense and intensity return

By Scott Boll
Daily Sports Editor
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker
sent a simple message to his seniors fol-
lowing the team's most recent lopsided
loss.
"We need senior play right now,"
Amaker said two days after Michigan's
84-70 loss to last-place Purdue. "We
need to have (the) guys who are veterans
play of that makeup."
They responded.
Following a weekend team meeting, a
rejuvenated Michigan squad showed up
to Crisler Arena last night. And for the
first time in two
weeks, it brought =ys^ a" °
its defense with it.- 11GN 0
The Wolverines
used stifling defense out of the gate
to jump out to an 18-2 lead. The early
cushion allowed the team to coast to a
72-50 victory.
"I was really pleased to see how we
responded defensively," Amaker said.
"We certainly struggled in our previ-
ous games, and I thought our defensive
intensity tonight was tremendous."
After the two teams traded baskets to
begin the game, Michigan went on a 16-
0 run over the eight minutes. With just
seven minutes remaining in the half,
Michigan's lead had extended to 29.
And there was one reason: defense.
"We came out and played defense
well' sophomore wing Ron Coleman
said. "That's what we had our main
focus on. ... Tonight, everyone gave
good effort on the defensive end, and
that translated over to our offense, too."
Where did this defense come from?
The seniors called a players-only
meeting over the weekend, with the
emphasis on team defense.
"We just talked about coming out
and giving more effort and having more
intensity on the defensive end," senior
co-captain Chris Hunter said. "That's
what the meeting was about: our defense.
Going out there and playing hard.
"We needed to have it. We needed to
iron some things out and get things off
our chest."
Did they ever.
The Wolverines (7-5 Big Ten, 17-6
overall) entered the game on a three-
game losing streak. During that streak,
they had allowed over 90 points per

'TO"MM'O' G '
The Wolverine defense shut down Minnesota, holding the Gophers to just 35.7
percent from the field and 13.3 percent from beyond the arc.

couldn't believe my eyes.
Michigan didn't play one second of zone defense in
the first half.
I cringed after the first media timeout, thinking that
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker might want to throw a
change of pace at Minnesota.
Even after three Gopher timeouts, I scanned the court.
Luckily, I didn't see the players bouncing up and down in a
zone defense.
Over the past three games, Wolverine fans became all to
familiar with their team falling back into a zone,
allowing its opponents to drain open 3-pointers.
It seemed like Michigan coach Tommy
Amaker wasn't willing to trust his team to play
man defense without Lester Abram, Dion Har-
ris and Jerret Smith.
But last night, Amaker stuck with a gritty
man-to-man defense, and the Wolverines sur-
rendered just six points in the first 14 minutesk
of the game. At the end of the first half, the
Gophers had totaled just 20. K
Everyone in Crisler Arena saw the difference
right from the start. Minnesota took its first two W
offensive possessions with well below 10 seconds The Si
on the shot clock. Both time, the Wolverines
didn't let the Gophers settle into a comfort zone.
Michigan played arguably its best defensive half of the
year. But, this resurgence leads me to one question.
Where has this kind of intensity and effort been the last
three games?
Don't get me wrong. The Wolverines desperately needed
to right a sinking ship, and they ran the Gophers out of
Crisler Arena.
But if a team can turn it on with a snap of the fingers,
then it's just as easy to relax and let its guard down.
And games against Iowa, Ohio State and Purdue defi-
nitely proved that.
Maybe the Wolverines had their heads in the sky after
joining the top 25 for the first time since 1998. Talk circled
that Michigan finally had meshed its talent with its play on
the court. Two weeks ago, the Wolverines seemed not just a
lock to make the NCAA Tournament but also a frontrunner
for the Big Ten crown.
Then they ran into Iowa, Ohio State and lowly Purdue.
Granted, losing Harris in the second half of the Ohio
State game deflated the team. But that's no excuse for the
way Michigan came out against the Boilermakers.

EV
IC
'xt

Finally, emotion returned to the Wolverines last night.
They played loose but intense. They didn't force shots but
actually ran a semblance of an offense. Junior Brent Pet-
way electrified the crowd when he skied to block Spencer
Tollackson's shot to end the first half.
Amaker, especially, showed the intensity that Michigan
missed.
After Minnesota's Dan Coleman backed down senior
Chris Hunter and drained a hook shot over him, Amaker
immediately called a timeout. He proceeded to point
adamantly and yell at the Wolverines huddled
around him. The scene could have fit in any of
the last three games, but unlike those situations,
Amaker's team was ahead 41-17.
Last week, the Michigan players repeatedly
said that they had to return to the aggressive
defense they played at the start of the Big Ten
season.
But each game yielded the same results.
The Wolverines fell to an opponent that shot
TIN the lights out. It's not like the other team ran
out five J.J. Reddicks (Purdue is second-to-last
GHT in the Big Ten in scoring offense). Michigan
h MAkn simply failed to muster the effort to defend the
perimeter or dribble drive.
Still, give Amaker and the Wolverines some credit. Their
backs were up against the wall. If they lost last night, the
only postseason tournament calling after the Big Ten tour-
nament would have been the NIT.
It would be too easy to point to such a definitive victory
and proclaim the Wolverines' return to glory. In reality,
yesterday's win didn't prove that much.
They beat a team that started the Big Ten season 0-6
and currently sits in third-to-last place in the confer-
ence standings. And Michigan did what every contend-
erhas to do: defend home court.
Now, the Wolverines have to travel to East Lansing this
Saturday to face Michigan State, and Michigan's play on
the road in the Big Ten has been less than desirable - at
least in the past two weeks.
This Saturday, they're going to have to prove that they
have the mental toughness to carry the suffocating defense
they displayed last night with them on the road.
Otherwise, they'll be watching March Madness from the
cozy confines of Crisler Arena.
Kevin Wright can be reached at kpwr@umich.edu.

game, almost 30 points more than their
season average.
Going into last night's game, it looked
as if the skid might continue. Two teams
heading in different directions faced off.
The streaking Michigan squad had to
match up with Minnesota (3-8, 12-10),
which was coming off a 14-point victo-
ry against Michigan State on Saturday.
"We caught a team (last night) that
was playing some of its best basketball,"
Amaker said. "1 thought that they were
a team that everyone in our conference
was recognizing as a team that was real-
ly pulling things together."
But after Michigan's red-hot start,
there was little doubt as to how the game
would play out.
That's because the offense wasn't too
shabby, either. Michigan dropped 44
points in the first half, its most impres-
sive opening stanza in conference play
thus far.
Three players - including two of
the seniors Amaker challenged to step
up - scored in double figures during
the opening half. Seniors Hunter and
Daniel Horton, along with sophomore
Coleman, each scored 11 points in the

game's first 20 minutes.
Horton finished the contest with a
game-high 21 points. Although Coleman
netted just two points in the second half,
he produced 38 valuable minutes for a
team whose bench was pretty scarce.
"I thought hisjump shots early and his
scoring early (along with) his defense on
(Vincent) Grier and (Maurice) Hargrow
was a heck of an effort," Amaker said.
Michigan played without starters
Dion Harris and Lester Abram as well
as freshman point guard Jerret Smith
for the second straight game.
Both Harris and Smith said they will
be ready for Saturday's game against
in-state rival Michigan State. Harris
dressed and went through warm-ups,
but didn't see game action. Smith was
cleared to practice earlier in the week
after battling mononucleosis. Amaker
said he doubted Abram would be ready
for Saturday's rivalry game.
Whoever takes the court on Saturday,
Horton said to expect more of what his
team showed on Wednesday.
"Today, we knew we had to get this,"
Horton said. "Now, we have to go and
get ready for Michigan State."

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