By Eric Ambinder

Daily Sports Writer

It seems as though the Michigan women’s basketball team
has short-term memory.

Tonight, the second season begins in Indianapolis — the
Big Ten Tournament.

Forget that the Wolverines lost to first-round opponent Illinois
in Champagne on Feb. 1.

Forget that they shot 3-of-22 from long-range, and gave up 94
points to the Fighting Illini — a season high.

Forget a 6-10 conference record.

“I think we can definitely go all the way,” said
guard Sierra Hauser-Price about Michigan’s odds in the Big
Ten Tournament. “Everybody starts 0-0, so everybody has a
chance.”

The Wolverines have beaten Illinois in the first round of the
Big Ten Tournament the past two seasons by an average of 22
points.

But the Illini have dominated during the regular season the past
three years. Illinois has defeated Michigan in each of the last
four attempts by an average of 17 points.

Heading into the Big Ten Tournament, Illinois and Michigan are
at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

The Wolverines have won two Big Ten games in a row for just the
second time this season. Their latest win came against No. 12
Minnesota. The Fighting Illini have lost four consecutive
games.

So how can the Wolverines prepare for a match-up that has been
so unpredictable in years past?

By being predictable.

Coach Burnett prepared for tonight as if it were any other
game.

“I treat the tournament basically the same as I treat
every game,” Burnett said. “There are some emotional
differences, but strategically and in the starting lineups, I
don’t see any changes.”

The Wolverines will continue to use the same offensive and
defensive strategies they have used all year — get the ball
to first-team All-Conference center Jennifer Smith in the post on
offense and eliminate dribble penetration and transition buckets on
defense. Smith scored 31 points against Illinois earlier in the
season, but the Wolverines were continually beaten down the court
by a fast-paced Illini squad.

“In our loss to Illinois (this season), it wasn’t
our offense (that hurt us),” senior Stephanie Gandy said.
“It was defense. (Illinois) had too many fast break points.
As a team, we need to play better defense.”

The major key to Michigan’s late-season push has been
defense. The Wolverines have held their past two opponents to an
average of just 51 points, and the team finally seems to be
adjusting to Burnett’s unique trap-style defense.

If Michigan defeats Illinois tonight, it will face No. 6 Purdue
on Friday — the team that has knocked them out of the Big Ten
Tournament the past two seasons.

But don’t expect the Wolverines to look toward tomorrow;
they try not to look too far ahead.

“We only go one game at a time,” Burnett said.
“That’s our vision, not our goal. I’ve always
coached that way. We will pack for five days, but we will play one
game at a time.”

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