Daniel Horton picked the right time to bust out of what some
have called a season-long funk.

Horton had been inconsistent all year. Some said he was in a
slump, but others, including his coach, most of his teammates and
even Horton himself said that the sophomore was just struggling to
get used to his new role on the team, which included more
responsibilities on defense and an increased leadership role.

Now, with his numbers on the rise over Michigan’s last
five games, Horton may be disappointed to see the season come to an
end this week, even if his team wins the NIT.

That’s because Horton appears to have finally reentered
his comfort zone — a zone that he was in for most of his
freshman season, but which had eluded him through the beginning of
this year.

“He’s been as good as anybody in certain stretches
and especially down the stretch in the two previous games,”
said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker of Horton’s performance in
the Wolverines’ wins over Oklahoma and Hawaii. “When
Daniel has played better, our team has been a lot better. I think,
as we’ve seen, with a few more games and more opportunities
to get better, and for him to improve his game, he’s done
that.”

Horton struggled as the Big Ten regular season drew to a close.
During a four-game homestand near the end of the regular season, he
struggled to find his rhythm, averaging eight points per game
— four below his season average — while connecting on
just 8-for-30 from the floor.

But since the regular season has ended, Horton has picked up his
game, averaging 15 points per contest over the Wolverines’
five postseason games.

Horton credited his performance to something that his father and
his coaches both suggested to him recently.

“They just told me to be myself,” Horton said.
“They said that they noticed that I didn’t have the
same confidence, the same swagger that I had since I came to the
University of Michigan. And I went back and I looked, and watching
myself play — I didn’t. I just tried to get that back
through hard work.

“I think it’s paid off.”

In addition to his recent success, Horton may have some
additional motivation when Michigan faces off against Oregon
tomorrow night. Oregon coach Ernie Kent was the head coach of the
U.S. Junior World Championship team, which Horton was cut from this
past summer. But Horton downplayed any feelings of ill will he may
have toward Kent when asked about the situation on Friday.

“I’d rather not talk about that,” Horton said.
“It’s in the past, and things happen for a reason.
Right now it’s not about Ernie Kent and I. It’s about
Michigan vs. Oregon.”

Michigan Square Garden: Prior to the Big Ten Tournament at
Conseco Fieldhouse, Amaker said he wasn’t sure if the
Wolverines would benefit from a win over Butler at the Fieldhouse
on Nov. 30.

But the Wolverines are hoping that having already played this
season at Madison Square Garden — where they knocked off
Fairfield 66-43 on Jan. 3 — will give them an edge in this
week’s games.

“Just being able to play there and know how those rims
are, and getting the feel of the court, and not being too amazed
with the surrounding stuff — because we’ve been there
before — will definitely help us,” senior Bernard
Robinson said. “But Oregon’s a great team, so
we’re going to have to do a little more than just feeling
comfortable about the court (to win).”

Les is more: After missing four games due to a shoulder injury
suffered against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, sophomore Lester
Abram returned to the court for Michigan in its win over Hawaii on
Wednesday. The Wolverines’ leading scorer made a quick
impact, finishing the game with 17 points on 7-for-11 from the
floor.

After the game against Hawaii, Amaker said that he played Abram
more minutes (21) than he had intended because Robinson was in foul
trouble. But Abram felt few lingering effects of the injury on
Thursday after the game.

“He said that he was feeling much better,” said
Amaker of Abram’s condition on Thursday, which was an off-day
for the team.

Notes: Due to the Dance for Mother Earth Pow Wow being held at
Crisler Arena, Michigan was forced to practice at the IM Building
over the past three days … Michigan is a combined 5-8 away from
Crisler Arena this season … This will be the first year that the
NIT will not play a consolation game.

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