Tonight, for the first time since losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament on March 5, the Michigan women’s basketball team will face the fast, physical brand of basketball that gave them fits throughout their season.

After crushing MAC opponents Kent State and Toledo by double digits, the Wolverines face Northwestern (7-11 Big Ten, 18-14 overall), the only other Big Ten team remaining in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT), for the right to advance to the elite eight.

“It’s nice to see somebody else in your schedule rather than your conference teams because you battle each other so much,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said after a 35-point win over Kent State in the first round of the WNIT. “It’s still nerve-racking, but it’s someone new so, in some respects, it’s fresh.”

Never in program history have the Wolverines faced an opponent four times in one season. If the previous three games are any indication, Thursday’s game won’t be easy. Especially with both teams fighting for their seasons.

When the Wildcats came to Ann Arbor at the end of December, they took the lead going into halftime and held on tight the rest of the way, beating Michigan by four.

And it was 6-foot-5-inch junior center Amy Jaeschke who led Northwestern in points and blocks.

Michigan (8-10, 19-13) didn’t fare much better in Evanston at the beginning of February. After trailing for most of the second half, the Wolverines took a one-point lead with two minutes left. But the lead quickly vanished, and Michigan lost by four, again.

“We didn’t look even like we play organized basketball,” Borseth said after the loss. “We really never had rhythm the entire game. It was the second game we played them and never had rhythm. We did shoot 43 percent, but it didn’t feel good. Just didn’t feel good.”

Jaeschke, again, did plenty of damage, scoring 15 points.

When the Big Ten Tournament rolled around, the Wolverines knew it was crunch time, but so did Jaeschke. If the team didn’t make it past the first round of the tournament, there was no guarantee they would see postseason action. But Michigan took an early lead despite Jaeschke’s impressive offensive performance and five blocks, and the Wolverines never relinquished it, winning by 13. Five Wolverines scored double digits to win.

If Michigan can muster a repeat performance of that March 5 game, offsetting Jaeschke’s impact with another impressive offensive campaign, it could get even with the Wildcats en route to a 20-win season, the first in 10 years for the Wolverines.

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