After losing 10 of its final 11 games, the Michigan women’s basketball team finished Big Ten play with a 3-13 record, giving it the conference’s worst mark. Dropping 10 conference games by double-digit deficits, this has been a year that the Wolverines would love to forget.

According to Michigan head coach Sue Guevara, tonight they can.

At 8 p.m., the Wolverines play their first game in the Big Ten Tournament and – in Guevara’s mind – get a fresh start.

“(The Big Ten Tournament) is a totally different season, and I think unless you’ve been there, its tough to understand that,” Guevara said.

But with a first round matchup against Illinois (9-7 Big Ten, 17-10 overall), the Wolverines will have a hard time wiping the slate completely clean.

On Jan. 5, the Fighting Illini came into Crisler Arena and blew out Michigan 89-57 in the teams’ only meeting of the year.

The 11-seeded Wolverines will get a second crack at the No. 6 seed Fighting Illini, and Guevara believes that success for Michigan lies in awareness on defense.

“They have a lot of kids that can run a couple of different teams,” said Guevara. “I think we need to know where the shooters are, get our hands up, and I think we need to defend against the penetration.”

On offense, Michigan needs to take much better care of the ball than it did during the teams’ first meeting, when the Fighting Illini overwhelmed the Wolverines with their defense and forced 29 turnovers – Michigan’s season high. Illinois is notorious for utilizing a very high-octane defensive gameplan that produces many steals.

“They’re very athletic,” said Guevara. “They like to get up and down the floor, and they like to press for 40 minutes.”

Although the talented Fighting Illini present a formidable opponent for the Maize and Blue, the most important aspect of the game for the youthful Wolverines may be handling the tournament’s intimidating environment. All games will be played in Conseco Fieldhouse (home of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers), which boasts an enormous capacity of 18,345.

“(During the Big Ten Tournament), there’s a bit more electricity in the air,” Guevara said. “It feels like the NCAA Tournament. The bands are going, and there are a lot of people in the stands. It’s really a different atmosphere.”

The Wolverines currently possess a 12-15 overall record, and in order for them to continue their season beyond this weekend, they need to run the table and win the Big Ten Tournament. As Big Ten Tournament champions, they would recieve an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. Although the odds are against them – a No. 11 seed has never won the Big Ten Tournament – the Wolverines, as is their custom, remain extremely optimistic.

“Everybody is like, ‘Yeah we’re going to win these four games,'” sophomore forword Tabitha Pool said. “We’ve been working hard in practice, and everybody is going to be pumped up. I know we can do it.”

If the Wolverines defeat Illinois in the first round, they will play No. 3-seed Purdue (12-4, 23-5) tomorrow night. The Boilermakers defeated Michigan 69-52 in West Lafayette during conference play and currently hold a No. 12 national ranking.

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