How desperate was Michigan to grab a win
yesterday over Penn State and stop the bleeding?

Kate Green

After two straight road losses — one to a struggling
Minnesota team, and the other to Iowa — the Wolverines had to
take care of business against the Nittany Lions to keep their
postseason hopes alive.

Michigan coach Tommy Amaker even broke into his closet to try
and change his team’s fortunes. He had been sporting a polo
shirt for the first 21 games of the season. Last night, he wore a
blazer.

“I thought I’d give it a shot,” Amaker said.
“We weren’t winning without it, so I gave it a
look.”

The team followed Amaker’s lead, taking care of business
when it needed to the most.

The Wolverines played unselfishly. Amaker set the bar at 20
assists before the game, and they almost got there, coming up just
four short.

Even so, they had five more assists than turnovers. Most
noticeably, Michigan protected a lead in the second half.

After taking an 11-point edge over Minnesota at halftime last
week, Michigan was run out of the gym in the second half en route
to a three-point defeat. Against Iowa, the team held a slim
four-point lead at the break. The Wolverines lost by eight.

Last night, they had no choice but to change their second-half
fortunes. Another blown lead would have been devastating.

“We’ve been harping on it at halftime the last
couple of games, we just haven’t been doing it,” senior
Bernard Robinson said.

The difference seemed to be defensive pressure. Michigan kept it
up yesterday, hounding the Nittany Lions around the perimeter, and
that kept Penn State at bay. The Wolverines even broke out a
full-court press with 10 minutes left and a 20-plus point lead.

“We really wanted to keep extending the floor,”
Amaker said.

Penn State doesn’t have a deep team. By making the Nittany
Lions work so hard on offense, the Wolverines seemed to tire them
out and, most importantly, kept them from making any big runs.

Michigan got easy baskets in transition. That kept the
Wolverines from hitting an offensive lag and losing the lead, as
they’ve been known to do in recent weeks.

“Once we’re out on the run and feeling good and
making the right passes, it’s very hard to stop us,”
Robinson said.

The work isn’t done yet though. And the road gets much
tougher from here.

With six games left, no one knows how many more games the
Wolverines will have to win to get an at-large bid to the NCAA
Tournament.

“We’ve got to do well all six games, I feel,”
Robinson said. “We’ve got to win all six games
(including today’s contest), or at least be very competitive
in all six games in order, we feel, to be eligible to go the places
we want to go.”

Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State will all visit the
Wolverines in the coming week and a half. That’s a tough
stretch.

To make things worse, it’s Spring Break, and any home-court
advantage could be hurt by a lack of student support.

Back in September, sophomore guard Daniel Horton implored the
Maize Raige, at the group’s mass meeting, to stay in town for these
upcoming games. Given the team’s recent struggles, these contests
could be more important than the point guard even realized at that
time.

“It’s very tough,” Robinson said of the upcoming stretch. “But
we’re going to be ready to play when the time comes. We have to. We
have no choice.”

If last night’s 23-point win is any indication, the Wolverines
are on the right track.

Dan Rosen can be reached at
“mailto:danielsr@umich.edu”>danielsr@umich.edu.

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