The rash of injuries that have beset the Michigan Wolverines of late can explain away some to their recent on-court struggles. They do not, however, excuse the effort that was put forth in Saturday's loss to the Purdue Boilermakers. The team that went to West Lafayette wasn't one that Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker recognized. Many of the players appeared to be down mentally do to the adverse circumstances they were again faced with, and that seemed to affect them on the court. Early in the second half of that contest Michigan's fifth year head coach sat down many of his veteran players, signaling to them that there was no room for them feeling sorry for themselves. After a few days of tough practice, the question was, how would this team respond? Wednesday night versus the Gophers, they answered the bell in a big way.
The Wolverines wanted to set the tone on defense early and Amaker inserted Chris Hunter into the starting lineup in place of Courtney Sims to help do that. That move proved to be beneficial, as did the home team's increased tenacity on the defensive end of the floor. They smothered the Gophers offense, holding them to eight points for the first 14 minutes of the contest.
Meanwhile, Amaker's bunch got of the gates fast on offense. Hunter and fellow senior Daniel Horton sparked the Wolverines scoring 11 points apiece in the first half to send Michigan into the locker room up 44-20.
"I thought that was the game plan for us, defending, rebounding and running," Amaker said. "I thought we did all three of those things in high fashion and high gear. It certainly starts with our defensive energy and Daniel Horton and Chris Hunter, in particular, really gave us a shot early in their respective ways."
After the break, the Gophers gained a little momentum by jumping out on a 9-2 run to cut Michigan's lead to 17 at the 16:18 mark. That forced Amaker to call a timeout to get his team back on track, and the brief meeting with his troops did the trick. Horton stepped up for the Maize and Blue, scoring six straight points on an 8-2 run to increase the lead back to 23, (54-31). From there the Wolverines were never challenged and cruised to the 72-50, victory.
"[Minnesota] came right at us at the opening tip there," Amaker said regarding the Gophers early second half outburst. "We certainly were trying to get our guys geared up for the first four minutes of the second half. You give them credit for not quitting. They came out fighting and we had to call an early timeout. It is difficult though. I think those are the things you have to respond to and I thought we responded very well after that timeout."
"Michigan really dictated both ends of the floor for an extended period of time," Minnesota coach Dan Monson added. "For the first 10-12 minutes the game really got out of control in a hurry. They pressured us and we did not handle that very well on the defensive end. They dictated our shots and their shots for the first 15 minutes of the game. I did not think we played bad after that. I thought we did some things better to start the second half. But it is a 40 minute game and we did not come prepared for the first 15. This is the second time we have played them. These two games, and against Ohio State we just did not contest shots. They dictated the shots against us better than anybody besides Ohio State in the 11 games we have played so far."
On the game, Daniel Horton led three Wolverines in double figures with 21 points and five assists. Vincent Grier paced the Gophers with 19 points respectively. For more on the contest, click the following links: Boxscore, Quotes, Notes, Photos.
After the much needed victory Horton expressed satisfaction with his team's effort, but indicated that there was still room for improvement. "I think that today we had a little more intensity and a little more hustle, but we have still got to get better at getting loose balls," he said. "Especially in the second half, there were a lot of loose balls and a lot of second-chance opportunities that we were disappointed with. For the most part I think we played pretty good defense."
The Wolverines will look to make it two in a row Saturday when the face off with arch rival Michigan State in East Lansing. Tip-off is scheduled for 4pm.
"Coming into the game, we were hoping Dion could give us something tonight, but as we found out it was probably he didn't play," he said. "As the way things turned out it could be a big blessing for us not to have used him tonight and still have a pretty gritty performance by our kids."
The doctors left it up to me," Harris added. "I tried it out and I couldn't cut like I wanted to. I wasn't confident in my lateral movement. But I'll be ready to go versus Michigan state. I'm looking forward to playing Saturday."
Smith said he'll return to action Saturday as well. "I probably could have played tonight if they needed me, but sitting out gave me a chance to rest a little more," he said. "I just came back yesterday and I was terrible. I didn't have my wind. I lost about 10 pounds and I'm down to 190. I'll be fine for the Michigan State game though."
Lester Abram is not expected to play Saturday.