The best thing to do in the Big Ten is forget. Whether it’s a string of quality wins or a tough loss, the conference schedule demands respect one game at a time. If the Michigan women’s basketball team hasn’t learned that lesson yet, it can learn it the hard way tonight at the Breslin Center against in-state rival Michigan State.
The Wolverines are coming off a heartbreaking 72-70 loss against Big Ten leader Penn State, in which they led by 13 at one time.
There’s little time to dwell on what could have been for Michigan (2-4 Big Ten, 11-6 overall), which is facing a Spartan team that’s won four of its last five. A win in East Lansing pushes the Wolverines just a bit closer to the 4-3 log jam in the middle of the conference between Minnesota, Illinois and Michigan State. A loss drops the Wolverines to 2-5 in the Big Ten, miles away from contention right before another road game against Wisconsin.
“We have to prepare by going hard in practice,” sophomore Tabitha Pool said. “Everybody might be a little tired, but we have to suck it up and go out there and perform.”
While the key may be to forget past performances, Michigan has been fighting against the memory of last season, when it managed only a 6-10 Big Ten record after a 10-1 preseason start. While the record will be the final judge, Sunday’s game may have shown that it’s not time to give up on the Wolverines yet.
“I saw a lot of good things in that film,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “Now it’s just a matter of finishing the play out. I think we can play with anybody,”
Guevara attributed part of that performance to her team’s improving health status. Junior center Jennifer Smith and freshman Niki Reams are both slowly recovering from knee and wrist injuries, respectively.
The Wolverines need to be as healthy as possible against the Spartans. While the combination of Smith and senior LeeAnn Bies is usually enough to bully the opposition, Michigan State brings its own set of bruisers, boasting five players listed at six feet or taller. One of those is freshman Liz Shimek, who leads the Big Ten in rebounding, averaging 9.7 per game.
The Spartans seem to match up well on paper, but Michigan hasn’t forgotten that it’s also playing a bitter rival that it’s beaten the last four times in the series.
“I let the media talk about the rivalry in it,” Guevara said. “We’re going to go down and play on Thursday and guess what? We’re going to get up and practice on Friday.”