Wolverines finding footing heading into matchup against Nebraska

Wednesday, February 6, 2019 - 8:35pm

Junior guard Akienreh Johnson scored 19 points in the win against Iowa and was a factor on defense in Sunday’s victory at Wisconsin.

Junior guard Akienreh Johnson scored 19 points in the win against Iowa and was a factor on defense in Sunday’s victory at Wisconsin. Buy this photo
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After notching two consecutive wins for the first time since November, the Michigan women’s basketball team (5-6 Big Ten, 14-9 overall) will host Nebraska (5-6, 10-12) Thursday night.

Nebraska has had an up-and-down season, picking up big wins against ranked opponents such as Minnesota while dropping tight contests to lower-tier squads such as Wisconsin. Junior guard Hannah Whitish leads the team with a scoring mark of 10.2 points per contest, and is efficient from beyond the arc, shooting the three ball at a 36.4 percent clip. The team’s best shooter from deep, however, is sophomore guard Taylor Kissinger, who shoots 44.6 percent and converts 86.4 percent of her free throws. Overall, the Huskers have eight players who score more than seven points a night and have plenty of weapons who can come up big any given night. While Nebraska is just 3-7 on the road, it could prove to be a pesky foe for the Wolverines, as many of their losses have been sealed in the game’s final moments.

On Jan. 27, a tough 77-73 loss to Michigan State dropped the Wolverines to 3-6 in Big Ten play and put their NCAA Tournament hopes on life support. Michigan —as it has all season — found a way to fight back.

On the heels of securing victories over No. 17 Iowa and Wisconsin on the road, the Wolverines find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble (per ESPN), helping to make what was a pipe dream into a reality in just under two weeks.

A major catalyst for Michigan’s recent surge has come in the form of senior forward Nicole Munger. Munger, who suffered a seemingly-gruesome ankle injury in the team’s loss to Michigan State, returned for Friday’s game against Iowa. While she only scored eight and 10 points in each respective contest, Munger’s return has given the Wolverines new life heading into Thursday night. When discussing her star senior, Michigan head coach Kim Barnes Arico said that Munger has to be essential if Michigan is to qualify for the tournament.

“She is just everything for our program,” she said to WTKA Tuesday. “She just does all the little things because of her experience and how hard she plays.”

While Munger has garnered a significant amount of attention since her return, the Wolverines have received a nice boost from junior forward Akienreh Johnson, who scored 19 points in the win against Iowa and was a factor on defense in Sunday’s victory at Wisconsin.

“We knew (her breakout) was coming, we were just sitting on when,” Munger said on Friday.

Though its win against Iowa was big for its tournament resume, the Wolverines’ victory on the road against Wisconsin was important for a different reason. The win marked the team’s first victory in conference play on the road and helped Michigan clear one of its biggest hurdles.

While Thursday night’s contest will be played in Ann Arbor, Barnes Arico knows that the task of beating a Nebraska team that previously handed Michigan a 70-56 loss in December will still be a tough one.

“They’re just a really good team,” she said. “We gotta take advantage of having them at home.”