Commentary

Stinging home loss should motivate

Last U-M team to go unbeaten at home believes this team has bigger goals within reach

Updated: March 1, 2012, 11:21 AM ET
By Chantel Jennings | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Senior Stu Douglass turned to his team in the locker room after a 75-61 loss to Purdue on senior night, a loss that ruined the Wolverines' goals of going 16-0 at home and said, "I didn't come to Michigan to win on senior night. I came to Michigan to win."

It was a sentiment that many players echoed: They could use this blemish on their schedule as a catalyst for their other season goals.

[+] EnlargeSteve Grote
Courtesy Michigan Athletic DepartmentSteve Grote, a guard on the 1976-77 team, sees a 'competitive spirit' in this year's Wolverines.
And it's not just the current players who believe that. According to a few of the members of the last team to go undefeated in Ann Arbor (1976-77), that loss might be the key to a bright postseason for Michigan.

Johnny Orr, who coached that team, said he believes this kind of a loss will fuel a deep postseason run for the Wolverines. Orr said it could come down to how current Michigan coach John Beilein frames this game and uses it as a motivating tool.

"They've got a good guy up there," Orr said of Beilein. "And he's doing a good job. I expect them to do very well in the postseason."

But it wasn't just Orr who believed the Purdue loss could do more help than harm for the Wolverines. Former players Phil Hubbard and Steve Grote both saw this as a stepping-stone to some of Michigan's bigger goals, including a Big Ten championship and a big NCAA tournament run.

"The reason disappointment exists is so the thrill of victory can be great," Grote said. "And these guys get that."

Grote said a lot of the keys to winning at home (which the Wolverines showed this year) are the same that are needed to produce a postseason run after a disappointing loss.

He said that first, the team needs its players at each position to play from good to great, never lower than that. Second, the team needs to have a great coach who communicates well to his players. Third, that coach needs to have players who "are capable of producing a competitive spirit that allows [them] to play above [their] own talent."

And Grote sees the current squad fulfilling each requirement.

Hubbard said the loss will help each player individually examine what he could've done in the Purdue game to help the team win. Hubbard said it's a wake-up call for each individual.

"What it does is make you more prepared," Hubbard said. "You can't take anything for granted now. The next game is always bigger than the last game. You've only got a couple left, and you have to try to close it out right. It puts them in the right frame of mind."

The 1976-77 team did just fine without the motivation of a home loss. It entered the 1977 NCAA tournament as the No. 1 team in the country, led by All-Americans Hubbard and Rickey Green. It beat Holy Cross in the first round then Dick Vitale's Detroit team in the Sweet 16. Hubbard had 26 rebounds against the Titans, which is still an NCAA tournament record.

The Wolverines' run ended in an upset to Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell and UNC Charlotte in the Elite Eight.

Interestingly, the final home victory for the Wolverines that season was a 69-68 squeaker over No. 19 Marquette, coached by Al McGuire. Three weeks later the then-Warriors won the NCAA tournament.

Immediately after this year's team's only home loss, it seemed as though Douglass and fellow captain Zack Novak were putting their teammates in the right frame of mind. With two more road games to finish out the conference schedule, the Big Ten tournament and a bid the NCAA tournament, the Wolverines still have the opportunity to fulfill their other season goals.

"That [loss] hurts, but I'd trade it in for a deep NCAA run or a win in the Big Ten Tournament. I'd obviously trade that in any day of the week," Douglass said. "We'll definitely come back motivated. ... I'm not worried about that part, it just kind of stings. But we'll be extra motivated for our other goals."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.