- Patrick Barron/Daily
By Glenn Miller, Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published February 20, 2013
The Michigan women’s basketball team has resurged itself in the Big Ten with two straight upset wins. On Thursday, the Wolverines have an opportunity to topple another ranked opponent and regain a foothold in the conference standings with a win over No. 24 Nebraska.
In one of the Big Ten’s premier matchups, Michigan will fight to maintain its recent winning-streak against the red-hot Cornhuskers. The battle holds a major influence on both teams’ fate within the conference, as both squads look to jockey for a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Wolverines have had a bumpy road through the Big Ten, but they now find themselves with the chance to compete for a top-three conference ranking. After four straight wins to start conference play, Michigan dropped four of its next five games. A recent momentum swing has earned the Wolverines big wins over Illinois, Purdue and Michigan State.
Sunday’s 70-69 upset of the in-state rival Spartans marked a new pinnacle for Michigan’s season. Senior guard Jenny Ryan led the Wolverines, who broke a 12-game losing streak against Michigan State, by scoring a career-high 24 points without tallying a turnover. Ryan’s effort earned her the Big Ten Player of the Week award on Tuesday — the first time she has received the honor.
With a win over Ohio State last Thursday, Nebraska improved its conference winning streak to seven games. During the stretch, the Huskers have won four consecutive games on the road. While Nebraska currently holds the second-best record in the Big Ten, a loss to Michigan would give both teams identical 9-4 conference records.
While Ryan’s leadership has focused the Wolverines as of late, it’s senior guard Kate Thompson who leads the team on offense. Thompson’s team-high 15.5 points per game has carried Michigan as of late and has also given her confidence in her 3-point shooting. Senior forward Rachel Sheffer holds down the interior for Michigan, scoring 12.6 points and pulling down six rebounds per game.
The Huskers have been fueled by the play of junior forward Jordan Hooper, who’s averaged 21.9 points and 7.7 rebounds during Nebraska’s current winning streak. Hooper’s impressive play this season is worthy of consideration for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.
Assisting Hooper is senior guard Lindsey Moore, whose averaging 14.9 points and 5.44 assists per game this season. Moore is expected to make her 124th-consecutive start against the Wolverines, as she has started in every game of her career as a Husker.
The showdown at Crisler Center is a must-win situation for both teams as they head into the postseason. If Michigan wins its remaining four games, which includes a difficult road game at Penn State, it places itself in a favorable position for second place in the conference. Nebraska is in a similar situation, with a good opportunity to continue its winning streak until the regular-season finale against Penn State at home. Nonetheless, the winner of Thursday’s game determines its fate in the conference, while the loser risks falling into the three-team log jam for a first-round bye at the Big Ten Tournament.