February 22, 2006
sports. michigandaily. com
- - - -------------
game is one
for the ages
Tommy Amaker said
Daniel Horton displayed
Graham Brown called
Horton's game "phenom-
Even star Illinois point
guard Dee Brown termed
his rival's performance
MATT But Horton said his play
SINGER was only "aight."
Spitting Fie I know you're modest,
Daniel. But your 39-point
explosion last night was a lot
closer to legendary.
With Michigan's NCAA Tournament hopes likely
on the line, Horton willed his team to victory last
night at Crisler Arena. The ESPN cameras were
rolling, the most hyped point guard in the NCAA
was staring him down, and Daniel Horton didn't
just rise to the occasion. He rose over it.
Horton hit open threes. He hit contested threes.
He hit runners in the lane. He hit jumpers from the
corner. He hit off-balance shots over multiple Illini
defenders. He hit six crucial free throws in the final
minute to ice the game.
Horton's stat line was ridiculous. Thirteen-for-20
from the field, 5-for-7 from behind the 3-point line,
8-for-8 from the charity stripe.
Incredible numbers. But there was a lot more to
After the Illini went ahead by seven early in the
second half, Horton picked Brown's pocket and
took off on a 3-on-1 fast break.
Horton could have taken the shot himself - he
was shooting the lights out, after all. He could have
dished to Courtney Sims down low. But instead, he
delivered a shovel pass to Dion Harris, who strug-
gled all day with his jump shot.
Like a true team player, Horton wanted to
give his backcourt-mate some confidence. Harris
drained the open trey, sparking the pivotal 9-0 run
that gave Michigan control of the game.
Defensively, Horton was the team's anchor. When
Illinois ran double- and triple-screens to get Dee
Brown open, Horton fought through the picks.
When Horton couldn't get through, he called out
switches, making sure that another Michigan player
could get a hand in Brown's face. After 38 min-
utes of chasing around college basketball's quick-
est player, Horton said he was tired. But he never
slowed down, not on offense and especially not on
The team took Horton's intensity to heart. After
giving up 84 or more points in four of their last five
games, the Wolverines finally showed up defensive-
ly. Michigan's man-to-man defense forced the Illini
to work for every shot. Whenever Illinois managed
to break down one Michigan defender, another
rotated over to help. Facing Michigan's intense
defensive pressure and intelligent team defense,
Illinois never found much of an offensive rhythm.
If Michigan played defense like it had in losses
to Iowa, Ohio State, Purdue and Michigan State,
The time is now
for young Icers
It's inevitable. When a team has 11 freshmen - as the Michigan
hockey squad does - people tend to focus on its youth, rather than
its overall play.
Phrases like "that was a good play for a freshman," "the incon-
sistency of the freshmen is really starting to show," or "they're no
longer freshmen anymore" are tossed around as carelessly as a Nerf
And this begs an important question: Does the phrase "they're no
longer freshmen anymore" even mean anything?
"They haven't played in the playoffs, at least not in the CCHA
or NCAA tournament," senior alternate captain Brandon Kaleniecki
said. "But playing in these games, as important as they are, are help-
ing a lot. Now they're getting a feel of what playoff hockey is like.
For them to see that now will help them in the long run."
Michigan freshman Brandon Naurato was born in 1985, which is
the same year juniors T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick were born, and
it could be argued that he hasn't been a freshman for a while.
Wolverine freshmen Tyler Swystun and Billy Sauer were born in
1988, so going by age, one could argue they aren't yet freshmen. Jack
Johnson and Andrew Cogliano were first-round picks in last year's
NHL draft, meaning they came to Ann Arbor and were expected to
make an immediate impact.
With all these different experiences, can one really generalize the
11 newcomers as one in the same?
"A lot of us come from different backgrounds," Sauer said. "A
few of us haven't even reached our draft year yet, and Jack (John-
son) went third overall, and (Cogliano) was a first-round pick. We're
a pretty diverse class as far as hockey backgrounds, but we don't
really see it like that. We are all here for the same reason."
Maybe that's all that matters. Just like the rest of the team, these
11 freshmen are here for one reason - to win. In that case, it doesn't
seem so bad to characterize them as one.
And going against the grain, it appears it will be the freshmen -
not the seniors - that determine how far Michigan goes this year.
Earlier this season, it seemed just the opposite, but recent weeks have
shown how important the Wolverines' youngest players will be to the
team's success or failure.
Two weekends ago, captain Andrew Ebbett and Kaleniecki com-
bined for three goals and three assists in the first period against Lake
Superior State. The week before that, the seniors teamed up for four
goals and two assists in a weekend series against Ohio State. That
included a key game-tying goal in the third period of Michigan's 3-2
win over the Buckeyes on Feb. 4.
Not surprisingly, Hensick leads the team with 46 points - 12
more than any other Wolverine. Hensick has tallied three goals and
eight assists over the last eight games. He proved just how valuable
he is to the team when he notched two assists to spark a three-goal
comeback in Friday night's eventual 4-3 loss at Nebraska-Omaha.
But the hot play of Michigan's veteran leaders has only resulted in
a 3-3-1 record in the last seven games. Something is missing.
And that something is the play of the freshmen. Whether it's scor-
ing more goals or finding other ways to contribute to the team while
on the ice, these youngsters need to provide better minutes and take
some heat off the captains.
"They don't have to score goals," Ebbett said. "But they have to
play defense and keep the puck out of our net. If we can do that,
we'll be a lot better off."
This problem is no secret to the team, and it's something Michi-
gan's freshmen are very aware of.
"The last few games a lot of our older guys like (Ebbett), (Kalen-
iecki) and T.J. have all stepped up with some big goals," Sauer said.
"We have to realize that we can't rely on them every game. We're a
part of this team, too, and we have to take after their leadership."
If the Wolverines can get some of their freshmen going, they will
pose a threat to any team they face come tournament time. If not, their
recent struggles may lead to a disappointing finish to the season.
Senior Daniel Horton scored a career-high 39 points in leading Michigan to a 72-64 victory over No. 8 lilinois.
Horton's offensive onslaught would have been for
naught. But because every Wolverine went all-out
on the defensive end, the stage was set for Horton's
And man, did he rise to the occasion.
Use the sports cliche of your choice. Ice water in
the veins. Nerves of steel. Horton had it.
With a minute to go and Michigan up by two,
everyone in Crisler Arena knew that Daniel
Horton would be taking the next shot. Brian
Randle, Horton's defender, knew too, and
stayed right with Horton as he drove to the rim.
It didn't matter. Horton canned an off-balance,
running, fall-away 12-footer to put Michigan
up by four.
Then, there were the free throws. In previous
seasons, Horton could be shaky at the line down the
Not this year. Not with his team desperate for a
win. Not with his first and only NCAA Tournament
bid on the line.
Even with Dee Brown in his face trying to rattle
him, Horton calmly drained all six of his foul shotsx
to finish off the Illini in the final minute.
All year long, I've been impressed with
Horton's ability to recognize when he needs to
take over. When Sims is dominating in the post,
Horton happily defers to him. When Harris is
lighting it up from long range, Horton makes sure
he gets the ball. But when the other options aren't
working, Horton knows it's his game to win.
He did it at Boston University. He did it against
Purdue. He did it against Michigan State.
But last night's performance tops everything.
In my mind, and the minds of all those who have
longed to see Michigan return to the Big Dance,
watching Daniel Horton play last night was some-
thing special. Something remarkable.
Something a whole lot more than "aight."
- Matt Singer can be reached
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