MINNEAPOLIS — When it was over, when the Minnesota players
were singing their fight song with the crowd for the first time
this conference season, you could just see it in the Michigan
players’ eyes.

Julie Pannuto

Every player resembled a boxer who had just gone one too many
rounds.

For most of this game, amidst all of the turnovers and missed
shots, the Wolverines were in control. Up 14 in the first half, and
by 11 at halftime.

Still up seven with less than 12 minutes to go.

Then Minnesota unleashed a barrage of punches that left Michigan
reeling. Four straight possessions, four straight 3-pointers.

The seven-point lead vanished in a matter of seconds, and when
the dust settled, 10 minutes later, Michigan had suffered a loss
that all but knocked out its Big Ten title hopes, and may have done
the same to its NCAA Tournament dreams.

After nine Big Ten games, the Wolverines find themselves on the
ropes … and so far, they haven’t done a very good job
of fighting back.

“I think we lost a little confidence here,” Michigan
forward Graham Brown said.

All season long, this team has been up-and-down, and everybody
has assumed (or is it hoped?) that the real Michigan team was the
one that showed up when everything was going right.

But, too often in this season, things have gone wrong. Against
Indiana, Michigan failed to show up in the first half. At Michigan
State, Wisconsin, Illinois and now Minnesota, it’s been the
second half that’s undone the Wolverines.

Time and time again, this Michigan team has had the glorious
opportunity to position itself among the Big Ten’s elite.

Time and time again, that opportunity has slipped away like so
many turnovers did last night.

After the Gophers’ victory, the thought shared by players,
coaches and fans alike in Williams Arena was that maybe Minnesota
isn’t that bad.

Lurking in the shadows, though, is the possibility that maybe
Michigan isn’t that good — 4-5 in the Big Ten would
seem to hint at that fact.

The Wolverines had every opportunity in the world to beat
Minnesota last night. In the first half, Minnesota looked like it
might not have gotten through an intramural tournament, let alone
win a Big Ten conference game.

In that half, the Gophers turned it over 12 times, shot 9-for-17
from the free-throw line and looked absolutely lost when Michigan
didn’t turn the ball over. When the Wolverines kept center
Jeff Hagen and forward Kris Humphries from getting good looks, the
rest of the Gophers looked like — well — players on a
team without a conference victory.

The problem, of course, is that Michigan didn’t take full
advantage. Instead of opening up a 20 or 25-point halftime lead
like they could have, the Wolverines themselves coughed it up 13
times in the first stanza, 19 times in all. When Minnesota turned
up the defensive pressure, Michigan responded by taking wild shots
or, worse yet, committing charges.

And, eventually, the underdog began slugging back.

“They were a lot more aggressive aggressive because we
were turning the ball over,” Michigan guard Daniel Horton
said. “Our shot selection was questionable at times and
turnovers killed us.”

Now the Wolverines, battered and bruised after yet another round
was lost on the road, have to decide if they want to pull a
Rocky-style comeback or throw in the towel.

“We’re going to have to pick it back up,”
Brown said. “We have to get right back to it.”

As with every tough loss Michigan has endured this year, the
Wolverines were preaching that they’re not done.

Saturday, the bell will signal Michigan back into the ring
– this time with a scrappy Iowa team that nearly knocked off
the Wolverines in Crisler.

With the season quickly coming to a close and Selection Sunday
about a month away, another devastating blow on the road might
finally keep Michigan down for the count.

 

Chris Burke has been waiting to go to the NCAA Tournament for
four year and will be crushed if Michigan doesn’t make it. He
can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu

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