Before beating No. 23 Penn State in State College on Sunday, it had been six years since the Michigan women’s basketball team strung together three wins in conference play.

That is, the last time the Wolverines won three consecutive conference games, senior center Krista Phillips was a sophomore in high school and the team’s six freshmen were in seventh grade.

Michigan heads to Evanston tonight in hopes of extending that winning streak to four.

The three wins have propelled the Wolverines out of their perennial basement position in the conference standings and into sixth place. Tonight, they go up against a team bringing up the rear in the Big Ten – Northwestern (4-7 Big Ten, 13-9 overall).

The Wildcats gave Michigan (5-6, 13-8) trouble at Crisler at the end of December, defeating the Wolverines 63-59 and handing them their first home loss of the season. Northwestern’s defense made it difficult for Michigan to find any offensive rhythm.

The Wolverines shot a season-low 33 percent and trailed for most of the game. When Michigan was down by twelve with two minutes left, the Wolverines surged to come within three points – but it wasn’t enough.

That was more than a month ago, and the Michigan squad heading to Evanston tonight is not the same team the Wildcats beat handily in their first meeting.

For one thing, history may be on Michigan’s side. The last time the Wolverines won three conference games in a row the streak started when the team beat Northwestern at home.

The Wolverines’ confidence and morale may also be at an all-time high at this point in conference play. Despite being stuck in a rut for much of January after losing six of their first seven conference games, they were able to beat Indiana at home two weeks ago to begin the winning streak they continue to ride after knocking off No. 23 Penn State Sunday.

“We never had any doubt that we wouldn’t be able to come back,” sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds said after the victory over the Nittany Lions. “We never give up.”

The Wolverines came out strong after a shaky first half against Penn State in which they struggled to find a rhythm. The team tends to play one half of quality basketball and sleepwalk through the other. But as the Wolverines get more conference wins under their belt, they are learning to find rhythm and put together two solid halves of basketball.

In two of Michigan’s last three victories, against Penn State and Indiana, the team picked up its play in the second half, and when they traveled to Champaign to play Illinois, the Wolverines went up early and never let up.

As long as it can get going early tonight in Evanston, Michigan should have no trouble beating a team that is last in the conference standings.

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