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Resilient Wolverines Down Wisconsin After Layoff

This Michigan team just continues to impress.

Coming off a 23-day hiatus due to a total shutdown of the University’s athletic department, No. 3 Michigan shook off a sluggish first half and overcame a double-digit deficit to defeat No. 21 Wisconsin – 67-58 – in Madison.

Prior to Sunday afternoon, the Wolverines had not competed since a 70-53 win at Purdue on Jan. 22.

In the opening minutes, it was Wisconsin that looked like the team that hadn’t played in over 3 weeks, however, as the Badgers had three quick unforced turnovers. Wisconsin senior Aleem Ford got his squad going with 11 early points.

Michigan countered with Isaiah Livers, who was aggressively seeking shots to start the game. The Wolverine senior had 11 points in the first 11 minutes of play, as the two teams played to a 20-20 tie.

The Badgers took charge in the next 5 minutes of play, going on a 14-4 run to take a 10-point lead. Wisconsin used that momentum to take a 39-27 lead into halftime.

Michigan came out of the break with an added intensity, cutting their deficit to 45-42 in the opening six minutes of the second half. The battle was on from there, as the two teams traded blows through the next several minutes.

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The Wolverines took their first lead of the half, 54-53, with just over five minutes left in the game when freshman center Hunter Dickinson sank a pair of free throws. That was part of a 23-8 close to the game for Michigan, who stifled the Badger offense down the stretch.

1. Michigan’s best win yet

It can’t be overstated how impressive this win was for the Wolverines. I fully expected Michigan to get beat today, and I have no problem admitting that. After not practicing for two weeks and 23 days in-between games, it would be tough to beat any team under those circumstances. To defeat a Top 25 Wisconsin, at a tough venue like the Kohl Center, after trailing by 12 at the half – there aren’t any words I can use that would justly describe that feat for Michigan. The Wolverines had every excuse to pack this one in at the break – the long layoff, tired legs, Wisconsin’s hot shooting in the first half, a tough road environment – but instead, Michigan came out of the break with increased intensity on the defensive end of the floor, and an 8-1 run to start the second half opened the door for a potential comeback. Juwan Howard, his assistants and his strength and conditioning coaches deserve a ton of credit for getting this team as ready as possible for this game.

2. Isaiah Livers was phenomenal

With all the adversity the Wolverines faced, they needed a guy to step up and carry them through the inevitable moments of difficulty that would come in this first game back. Isaiah Livers was that guy on Sunday for Michigan. The senior captain was aggressive early, and clutch late, as he led the Wolverines with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers, grabbed seven rebounds, and was excellent on the defensive end as well. There is talent up-and-down this Michigan roster, but Livers proved himself to be Howard’s right-hand man with his performance today.

3. A gritty double-double for Dickinson

As good as Livers was, his performance would have been in vain if not for a gritty effort from freshman Hunter Dickinson. This game was incredibly physical, and Dickinson was battered in the post, especially on the offensive end, but the freshman finished with 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks for the Wolverines. Dickinson had five offensive boards – one he grabbed led to his free throws that gave Michigan the lead, another led to a critical 3-pointer knocked down by Livers in the closing minutes. Those two plays were huge down the stretch. On defense, Dickinson often found himself switched on to Wisconsin point guard D’mitrik Trice – a tough assignment for most centers across the country. Trice beat the freshman a couple times, but Dickinson didn’t allow any easy baskets for the Badger senior, and collected a couple of his blocks on shot attempts from Trice. This was Dickinson’s fourth double-double of the season.

4. Wagner was solid, others struggle

Franz Wagner deserves a nod for his play on Sunday as well. The sophomore took a more gradual approach to re-acclimating his way back into competition, but by the end of the game Wagner played a large role in the victory. He finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting, and was once again solid defensively. While Livers and Wagner showed little sign of rust, other guys didn’t have the same level of success on the offensive end. Dickinson shot just 3-of-9 from the floor, Eli Brooks was 2-for-11 and Chaundee Brown went 0-for-3. It’s still going to take some time for Michigan to get back to the way they were playing before the shutdown, but they’re off to a great start. With more time back in practice, back to their usual routines, hopefully those other guys will round back into form quickly.

5. Two more ranked opponents ahead

With this win, the Wolverines improve to 9-1 in Big Ten play and maintain an odd half-game lead over both Illinois (10-3) and Ohio State (11-4) in the race for a league title. The road ahead remains challenging, as Michigan will host No. 25 Rutgers on Thursday, before a massive showdown with the No. 4 Buckeyes in Columbus on Feb. 21. The Wolverines can also expect their postponed game against the No. 6 Fighting Illini to be made up at some point to close the season. Michigan is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten championship, but they’ll have to go through their top two challengers to claim the crown.