After an embarrassing 71-44 loss against Michigan State last Wednesday, the Wolverines responded against Wisconsin with the “next-play attitude” that coach Tommy Amaker has been preaching all season.
“We thought coming off the game in East Lansing, how we were going to respond good, bad or indifferent was going to be one of the keys to our team and our season,” Amaker said. “I thought this was a crossroads for us internally.”
The Wolverines gave their coach exactly the start he wanted. Michigan took it right at Wisconsin from the opening tap, scoring on its first eight possessions and building an 18-4 lead in the game”s first five minutes.
The Wolverines never trailed in the 64-53 victory, which Amaker dubbed the team”s biggest win so far.
In a surprising move, the Michigan coaching staff opted to give former walk-on forward Herb Gibson his first career start.
“We have let our kids know that they all have a chance to play for us by what we have done with the lineup,” Amaker said. “It depends on how they practice, how they respond, how they carry themselves, how they represent themselves, the team and the school. I think in terms of Herb Gibson, he was a kid that we felt could have an impact in this game.”
Gibson took advantage of his moment in the sun, inspiring his team with back-to-back blocks, a steal and a breakaway dunk, which punctuated the Wolverines” early run.
Gibson set career highs in points (four), blocks (three) and minutes (27). Before Saturday night, Gibson had played just 26 total minutes this season.
“I wouldn”t say I played my best, but I held my own out on the court tonight,” Gibson said.
Gibson started in place of star forward Bernard Robinson, who opened the game on the bench for the third time this season. But Robinson made his presence felt with one of his best performances of the season.
Robinson scored a game-high 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting and tallied six rebounds.
“We were not ready defensively to handle Robinson,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Every time we tried to make something happen, Robinson hit a big shot.”
Senior center Chris Young was dominant in the paint for Michigan, scoring 12 points in the first half and 16 overall despite suffering from flu symptoms.
“We did a poor job on the weak side and just gave Young a ton of point-blank shots,” Ryan said. “We had a freshman and a sophomore in there on him, and he used them.”
Wisconsin managed to crawl back to within single-digits in the game”s final moments, as the Wolverines” offense was held scoreless for nearly five minutes.
“One of the things that we talked about at halftime was trying to sustain our energy and our effort,” Amaker said. “That has been very difficult for us to do at times.”
The Badgers had five second-half tip-ins and 15 offensive rebounds for the game. This continues an ugly trend for the Wolverines, who have given up 15 or more offensive rebounds four times this season including 25 against Vermont last weekend at Crisler Arena.
Wisconsin”s Devin Harris, a Big Ten Freshman of the Year candidate, was held scoreless until the game”s final seconds. Harris entered the game averaging 12.2 points.
Charlie Willis and Kirk Penny led the Badgers with 16 and 14 points, respectively.