In a season that has had its share of trends, the Michigan
men’s basketball team hopes it has just begun some new
ones.

Laura Wong
Freshman Courtney Sims, who went 6-for-6 from the floor against Penn Sate, will be challenged by Wisconsin. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

The Wolverines were able to accomplish things they haven’t
done much of this season in their victory against Penn State on
Wednesday. Those are going to have to continue if they plan to
compete with No. 12 Wisconsin on Sunday at Crisler Arena.

The Badgers (8-3 Big Ten, 17-5 overall) pulled away from the
Wolverines (5-6, 14-8) in the second half of the two teams’
first meeting in Madison on Jan. 21, as the Wolverines’
offense stalled in the game’s final 10 minutes.

But Michigan’s second-half performance on Wednesday
yielded hope that it is ready for its three upcoming home games
over the next week. Instead of allowing the Nittany Lions to cut
into their seven-point halftime lead, the Wolverines went on a 24-8
run to start the second half and opened a 24-point lead.

“I think it was the best second half that we’ve
played in a long time,” sophomore Daniel Horton said.

Two major reasons for the performance were Michigan’s
balanced scoring attack and its defensive pressure. Suffering from
deep scoring droughts during many games this season, the Wolverines
featured a balanced attack by not forcing outside shots and getting
the ball inside. But doing the same against the Badgers is not
going to be easy against experienced post players Mike Wilkerson
and Zach Morley.

“They have defense that is real good and they have big men
that are very good,” freshman Courtney Sims said.

Michigan also forced Penn State into 16 turnovers by pressuring
guards Marlon Smith and Ben Luber, creating many opportunities for
easy baskets.

“We wanted to make sure that we brought the energy
first,” senior guard Bernard Robinson said. “I think we
did a good job of forcing the tempo, trying to wear those guys
down.”

Michigan will try to continue that against a team that has
failed to establish itself on the road. While Wisconsin is 13-0 at
home, it is 3-5 on the road. The Badgers relinquished the Big Ten
lead on Wednesday night in a 65-57 loss at Illinois. In that game,
Wisconsin had a season-high 17 turnovers. Wisconsin has been the
only team in the conference to establish itself in the national
polls, but Michigan believes that it can hold service at home.

“Skill-wise, we’re there; talent-wise, we’re
there — it’s just that we need to stay focused that
whole game,” Sims said. “I just think (Wisconsin) is a
little more focused at times, and we just need to stay focused and
not turn the ball over.”

After two games in which they coughed up the ball more than 20
times, the Wolverines had just 11 turnovers against Penn State, and
have done a better job holding onto the ball at home than they have
on the road.

“The goal is to get through the first half of the game
without too many turnovers,” Horton said. “If we take
care of the basketball, we know we’re going to
score.”

With five games remaining, Michigan is probably going to have to
win at least four to have a chance for an NCAA Tournament bid.
After disappointing losses against Indiana, Minnesota and Iowa, the
room for error has gone away.

“We know what type of team we are capable of being,”
Robinson said. “We know what it takes, we just have to go out
there and do it.”

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