MADISON – Last night, Wisconsin played in its first game since returning from winter break. The Badgers looked antsy as they shuffled around during the National Anthem. And when Wisconsin scored the game’s first four points, Michigan seemed doomed to have one of its infamous slow starts.

But the Wolverines responded with a 12-0 run, benefiting from the inside play of sophomore forward Carly Benson and freshman center Krista Phillips.

Still, a pair of wing players proved the deciding factor in Michigan’s sustained strong play throughout the half.

While Wisconsin was coming off a break from classes, Michigan was aided by a different kind of return.

Senior forward Kelly Helvey and junior guard Janelle Cooper both started for the first time in five games. The veterans were instrumental in the Wolverines’ 32-28 halftime lead. Cooper scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 first-half minutes. Helvey played solid defense, notching two steals.

“I’m really proud of especially the first half,” Michigan coach Cheryl Burnett said. “Our kids played really hard, came out of the gate being very confident.”

One-two punch: Michigan got strong games out of its starting guards, Cooper and sophomore point guard Jessica Minnfield.

The duo played a combined 77 minutes.

Cooper led the team with 19 points and eight rebounds, five on the offensive glass. But Burnett saw much more than that.

“I know you as media, as fans, you’ll look at her numbers, and she has a great line of what her performance was,” Burnett said. “But we as coaches also look at the stats we like to keep – defensive stats and screening stats and all those other stats.

“Regardless of what her numbers are (on the box score), she had a tremendous game of what our coaches would also tally. So you add both of them together, and it’s a great performance.”

Minnfield had eight assists and was second on the team with seven rebounds. She also bounced back from three first-half turnovers with none in the second frame.

Pressing: Burnett brought in junior guard Krista Clement, sophomore forwards Ashley Jones and Melinda Queen and freshman guard Kalyn McPherson with three minutes remaining in the game. For Clement, Jones and Queen, it was their first action of the night.

The unit pressed the Badgers, and Queen stole a pass but couldn’t hit her shot.

After a Wisconsin rebound, Michigan backed off to set up its half-court defense. But Burnett, with obvious irritation, called the unit forward.

Burnett’s urging worked. Wisconsin point guard Rae Lin D’Alie was trapped on her own baseline and forced to call a timeout.

“I actually thought Wisconsin had a couple of unforced errors just due to our pressure,” Burnett said. “Some were forced. Sometimes we have to get the right kids out there to be a good pressing team.

As Burnett made frequent substitutions in the game’s closing minutes, Michigan continued to press.

But the Wolverines often ended up fouling Wisconsin in the backcourt, and the Badger free-throw shooting was solid enough to send Michigan home with a loss.

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