The Michigan women’s basketball team might still be a little tired from a hard-fought victory over No. 12 Ohio State last Thursday. The potential fatigue might have had the Wolverines looking for an easy start to 2011.

Instead, Michigan looks for its third straight victory over a ranked opponent when it faces No. 13 Iowa on Sunday.

Playing in a conference as tough as the Big Ten is a challenge for any team because one win doesn’t make a season. A team needs to string together impressive victories if it wants a successful season because the cupcake games that exist in other conferences do not exist in the Big Ten.

“Any time you win games in this conference, you’ve just got to tally one and move onto the next one,” Michigan coach Kevin Borseth said after the game against the Buckeyes. “But it’s great to win Big Ten games.”

Winning three straight games against ranked opponents would be a huge accomplishment in this young season, but beating the Hawkeyes will not be easy for Michigan (1-0 Big Ten, 8-5 overall). Iowa (0-1, 12-2) has four players who average more than 10 points per game and a fifth who averages 9.9.

The backcourt of senior Kachine Alexander, sophomore Jaime Printy and junior Kamille Wahlin has been lethal so far this season, combining for 41.3 points per game. Iowa is also 6-0 at home while Michigan averages 19 fewer points per game on the road than it does at home.

Alexander leads the team in rebounding with almost nine a game, which is noteworthy considering she stands at only 5-foot-9. The other big contributor for the Hawkeyes on the glass is sophomore center Morgan Johnson, who averages close to a double-double with close to 12 points and eight rebounds per game.

Johnson is 6-foot-5, and earlier in the season shutting down someone her size might have been an issue for Michigan. However, the recent defensive emergence of sophomore forward Rachel Sheffer has been instrumental to the Wolverines’ winning streak, especially during the Ohio State game.

Sheffer held two-time All-American center Jantel Lavender to just eight points in the first half, which helped build a 14-point halftime lead that the Wolverines never relinquished.

Michigan is playing much better help defense, which is allowing Sheffer to play more aggressively and force turnovers. Her improved play has helped to open up the floor for the rest of the Wolverines, and the offense is benefiting mightily.

Michigan’s defensive strategy has been to force turnovers to create more offensive opportunities. So when its defense is solid, chances are its offense will perform well, too. The Wolverines have scored more than 60 points in four of their past five games and have won all four of those contests. This season, Michigan is 8-1 when scoring 60 or more points.

Against the Buckeyes, the Wolverines were led on offense by senior guard Veronica Hicks and junior forward Carmen Reynolds, who both scored 17 points.

But the spark that sophomore Kate Thompson provided off the bench was more of the surprise, as she scored 16 points on 3-of-3 shooting from beyond the 3-point line. She went into the game averaging seven points per game, and her outburst was a huge part of a 20-point effort from the Michigan bench.

Winning a third game in a row against a ranked opponent would be a fantastic way to start conference play for the Wolverines. If they can continue to ride the current wave of momentum, they can be a very dangerous team that has the potential to win any Big Ten game. Iowa will be a tough opponent, but it is nothing new for a team with the eighth toughest schedule in the country.

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