As injuries increase, Michigan still believes it is an NCAA tournament-caliber team

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ANN ARBOR - The Michigan women's basketball team made no apologies after Thursday's 66-60 loss to No. 19 Northwestern.

The Wolverines (16-8, 7-6 Big Ten) faced their fair share of adversity in the past month, and suffered another blow to the Wildcats (21-3, 11-2).

Second-year forward Naz Hillmon, who entered the Big Ten in scoring fifth and rebounded second, suffered an upper body injury in the first three minutes. Although she returned and played briefly in the second and third quarters, she was on the bench for the last 14 minutes of the game.

Although Michigan returned from an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 60, Hillmon's absence was notable as head coach Kim Barnes Arico had to mix up his lineup. The Wolverines had a chance to level the game in the last 40 seconds, but ended up being scoreless in the last three minutes.

"The reality is that our season continues," said junior forward Hailey Brown, who scored 12 points. “We have a game on Sunday. We play Rutgers. We travel, so we have to get this victory. We can't really dwell on this match. Of course, it fears that we have lost. We should have achieved this victory, but at the end of the day, we had to keep moving. "

RELATED: Canada's Naz Hillmon of Michigan named NCAA National Player of the Week

Barnes Arico had no update on Hillmon after the match, but the team is already playing a shorthand. Senior forward Kayla Robbins tore her LCA on January 19 and is out for the season. Second-year guard Danielle Rauch, who had recovered a few minutes from Robbins, suffered a training injury last week and missed his third straight game.

Despite another key injury, Barnes Arico said she is proud of the reaction of her players, especially Brown and senior goalkeeper Akienreh Johnson, who had a 15-point high and nine rebounds.

"They care about each other and love each other so much that when we lose one, it's like" OK, "everyone has to step up," said Arnes. “Everyone has to do a little more. Let's just get around them, and when you lose a player like Naz, everyone has to do a little more. "

"I think we tried to do it, but I think our freshmen were a bit exposed. The other team was really experienced, and their experience focused on our young children, especially late. "

The Wolverines know what's at stake with five games to play in the regular season. They are tied with Rutgers for sixth place in the Big Ten and entered Thursday as No. 8 seed in the final screening of ESPN's Charlie Creme NCAA Tournament.

Barnes Arico firmly believes that this is an NCAA tournament caliber team.

"Here we are playing a team that is 21-3 at the end of the game without one of the best players in our league (Hillmon) hands down. "We just lost 25 points and nine rebounds, and we lost the game through possession. So I think our team really feels like we are a great basketball team. We have some great pieces and we hope Naz will be back to do this stretch. "

For now, however, Michigan is only focusing on Rutgers (17-7, 7-6).

"For any tournament speech, it all comes down to winning," said Brown. “We continue to prepare for each match in the same way. We play a game; the next day, we come back ready to work, we review the next team, then we train. I feel like the talk of the tournament, even the positioning for the Big Ten tournament, it all comes down to how we end our regular season. "

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