Heading into Saturday”s game against Wisconsin, Michigan was dead last in the conference in defense, allowing more than 73 points per game in Big Ten play.
But after 37 minutes had elapsed, the Wolverines had stifled the Badgers, holding them to just 39 points.
Things broke down late in the game as the Badgers crashed the offensive glass, using second and third chances to make the game interesting.
But Michigan dominated the majority of the game for one simple reason improved defensive effort.
“Our intensity was great,” senior tri-captain Chris Young said. “Guys were diving all over the place, going after loose balls and doing the dirty work to help our team win. We played with a passion we have been missing.”
The energy was palpable on the court, and that translated into a season-low 53 points allowed.
“We have battled every night,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. But (in this game) you could really see the energy and the determination to defend.”
No player exhibited that determination more than Herb Gibson, a 6-foot-5 senior and former walk-on.
Gibson swatted three Wisconsin shots, and could have had a fourth block if Young had not committed a foul on the same play.
Gibson also slammed home the final points of Michigan”s opening 18-4 run after just his second career steal.
“He had a tremendous impact because of his defensive ability and his ability to be active,” Amaker said. “We wanted to match him up with (Kirk) Penney because of how dangerous (Penney) can be as an offensive player.”
Penny entered the game as the 10th-leading scorer in the Big Ten, but Gibson was not intimidated.
“I wasn”t concerned with him,” Gibson said. “I feel like I guard the best players in the Big Ten every day when I am matched up against Bernard (Robinson) and LaVell (Blanchard). We scouted him well and Coach had a great game plan to stop him.”
Gibson”s strong efforts in practice earned him the starting spot, but the team as a whole combined for some of its most intense sessions of the year this week.
“We felt that if we would play like we practiced, then I liked our chances in this game,” Amaker said. “We have really practiced hard and competitively over the last couple of days.”
But despite Gibson”s fine efforts, the game”s most impressive defensive performance may have come from Michigan forward Bernard Robinson
He held the Badgers” second-leading scorer, freshman sensation Devin Harris, to just two points on 1-of-4 shooting. Harris entered the game averaging 12.2 points per game.
“They got him on film and figured him out,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “You got to give them credit.”