Michigan made college basketball history against No. 9 Wisconsin on Tuesday night, becoming the first team to beat three consecutive ranked opponents by at least 19 points each.
The ninth-ranked Badgers became the Wolverines’ latest victim during a 77-54 onslaught at Crisler Center. No. 7 Michigan’s win came on the heels of two other dominant performances — an 85-66 win over No. 19 Northwestern and an 82-57 rout of No. 16 Minnesota.
For the Wolverines, the most telling part of the dominant stretch has been their killer instinct. Michigan’s lead ballooned to 40 against the Badgers, due in large part to a 41-6 run. Even then, the team’s major contributors kept putting in maximum effort. Senior forward Isaiah Livers pinned a chase-down block off the backboard, while senior wing Chaundee Brown soared in for a putback dunk.
“Credit to the coaching staff,” sophomore wing Franz Wagner said. “… They keep us ready and kind of instilled that mentality that we keep playing our game no matter if you’re down or up one or up 25. Think that’s how you get better as a team, you don’t watch the scoreboard too much. Like you said, I think the last three games we’ve done a good job with that but now it’s the next game. Can’t look in the past and can’t be satisfied.”
After closing the first half on a 14-0 run, the Wolverines picked up right where they left off after coming out of the locker room. Michigan answered the Badgers’ opening and-one with a dominant 22-0 spurt, running Wisconsin off the court in the process. That’s no small feat against a Badgers team that won a share of the Big Ten title last season and brought back a starting lineup of five seniors.
The Wolverines have reached a double-digit lead in each of their six Big Ten games so far, and it’s rare to see them take their foot off the pedal. Besides some late-game hiccups against Penn State in the conference opener, Michigan has played its best basketball with a second-half lead in hand.
“It’s the way we’re taught in practice,” Livers said. “… That second half, when (the clock) is 0:00, that’s when we let up.”
Livers elaborated by describing one of coach Juwan Howard’s unique practice drills. It’s called Hunger Games — and for good reason. After the Wolverines’ throttled yet another opponent on Tuesday, Howard touched on the fact that the drill develops habits that carry over into games.
During Hunger Games, coaches don’t call fouls, violations, or out of bounds. There’s no whistle at all — just an all-out effort from everyone on the court in pursuit of rebounds, loose balls, and baskets.
“We call it Hunger Games for a reason,” Livers said. “The strong survive. It’s for competitors only, that’s our motto.”
Right now, the Wolverines’ motto has them well-positioned atop the Big Ten.