Sometimes it all comes down to experience. With all the talk about Michigan’s youth, Daniel Horton changing the face of the program and the development of the Wolverines’ two freshman centers, leadership and seniority have been lost in the shuffle.
But last night, LaVell Blanchard and Bernard Robinson reminded everyone at Crisler Arena that they are still, and have always been, the foundation of this team – the foundation of this 12-game winning streak.
Bernard Robinson worked harder in his 38 minutes than any other player on the floor, picking up the second double-double of his career. In the first half, the junior was everywhere, dazzling fans on the offensive end as he slithered his way to the basket and frustrating the Gophers on the defensive end with relentless, in-your-face pressure.
No play is a better example of Robinson’s first-half aggressiveness than his blocked shot on Minnesota’s Maurice Hargrove. With just over two minutes remaining in the first half, Horton collected a rebound on the defensive end, which was immediately stolen by Hargrove, who thought he was going up for an easy bucket. Out of nowhere, Robinson glided in from under the basket and rejected the shot, taking everyone in the building by surprise – except for maybe himself.
“Bernard’s play was very inspiring in the first half,” Amaker said. “His ability to get to the rim and try to finish with so much authority was huge for us.”
And then, of course, there’s Blanchard. While the senior’s play has been consistent, indeed instrumental, for the Wolverines during this winning streak, Blanchard hasn’t taken over a game like he did last night since Michigan’s comeback win over Wisconsin. Last night, he found his stroke and he delivered.
“Guys got me the ball in the right position,” Blanchard said. “Bernard scored 11 in the first to keep us in the game – a lot of guys stepped up today.”
“LaVell Blanchard was phenomenal,” Amaker said. “I thought his play certainly carried us tonight.”
Last year, Robinson and Blanchard were seen as a tandem – Michigan’s dynamic duo. One could shoot and rebound, while the other could penetrate and finish. It seemed like a perfect match, if they could both get their games working on the same night. But that didn’t happen last season, and it hadn’t happened yet this season.
But last night, they fed off each other better than they ever have. When one was down, the other picked it up. When one snagged a rebound, the other was running to the other end of the floor ready to make a play. Blanchard was hitting from the outside, and Robinson was working on the inside.
“It’s very important for those two guys to step up – they’re two of the best players on our team,” Chris Hunter said. “They can lead us to a victory. They made some tough shots, and it seemed like Bernard had every rebound in the first half.”
Said Amaker: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them complement each other as well as they did in the first half.”
There have been several memorable moments during the Wolverines’ past 12 games that have kept the streak alive. They have had gutsy performances night after night, and surprises around every corner. Much of this can be attributed to the talented freshman class. Amaker will be the first to admit that the Wolverines are a different team without Horton or Lester Abram on the floor.
But the bottom line is that Robinson and Blanchard are the core of this team. They have been in that position for three years, and they are expected to be the go-to-guys in any situation. Last night, they seized those roles and took over the game from beginning to end.
And that’s what having experience is all about.
Naweed Sikora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org