4B - March 9, 2009
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
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After dismal first
year, Beilein's squad
now excels under
By RUTH LINCOLN
Daily Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS - All season,
the Michigan men's basketball
team has remained hopeful. In
Saturday's 67-64 win at Minne-
sota, that hope was pretty clear.
The Wolverines shed their tra-
ditional warmup shirts for white
ones with the Spanish phrase,
"Queme los barcos."
Translated as "burn the boats,"
the phrase was the mantra of
16th-century Spanish conquista-
dor Hernando Cortez, who led his
small but mighty army against the
Aztecs. Cortez allegedly burned
his own boats, eliminating the
means to retreat.,
"We burned everything," fifth-
year senior guard C.J. Lee said
with a laugh. "We were throwing
everything at them to get a win."
Against Minnesota, the Wol-
verines fought until the final
buzzer. They competed with
poise and confidence on the road
to overcome a 12-point second-
They will play this weekend in
the Big Ten Tournament in India-
napolis. But No. 7 seed Michigan
is in good position to garner an
at-large NCAA Tournament bid,
its first since 1998, even without a
conference tournament run.
"When you get into March,
in some way, shape or form you
are about to play your last game,
at some point," Michigan coach
John Beilein said. "We don't want
to do that yet."
Michigan is still fighting, but
last March, most of the Wolver-
ines could not wait for the season
Last year, after a program-
record 22 losses, Michigan's sea-
son finished in Indianapolis.
There were no postseason
hopes or lofty aspirations. Even
a National Invitational Tourna-
ment bid was out of the question.
"We were at a different place,"
sophomore forward Manny Har-
ris said of last season. "We were
playing to try to get better, make
a miracle happen in the Big Ten
Tournament and go to the NCAA
Tournament. There wasn't an
NIT or anything.
"This year is different because
we're playing for something.
There's a lot more on the line."
This time around, the Wolver-
From page 1B
No more "NIT Dynasty" jokes.
No more "maybe next season." No
more "close, but no cigar." They're
I know a win against Iowa on
Thursday in the Big Ten Tourna-
ment will make a lot of Michigan
fans breathe a little easier - but
trust me, they're in. I saw the
drive, the determination and the
will of this team as it clawed back
from a 12-point deficit halfway
through the second half Saturday.
With that focus, there's no way
the Wolverines are going to slip up
against the Hawkeyes.
Michigan can sense the history
behind this season.
The Wolverines know how
much good for the program can
come out of an NCAA Tournament
bid - and how much bad could
come out of having to wait at least
another year for one.
Almost 200 different schools
From page 1B
bid before Saturday's game, so one
win at the Big Ten Tournament will
almost certainly lock up an at-large
But that postseason security
wasn't easily achieved.
Minnesota (9-9,21-9) led by three
at the half and went on a 10-3 run to
start the second frame. The Golden
Gophers extended their lead to a
dozen with 13 minutes remaining,
and the crowd at Williams Arena
could sense an NCAA Tournament
berth for their Golden Gophers.
Somehow, the Wolverines found
a way to steal a big road win in the
"Because we had to, in all hon-
esty," said fifth-year senior C.J. Lee
on how Michigan pulled out the
win. "We never talked about it in
the huddle, we knew what was at
From page 1B
really been in that position before.
We wanted to be out there so bad,
especially because it was Senior
Berenson joked after the game
that at least Miller and Turnbull
"got to rest" on the night that hon-
The recent ejections weren't the
only times the two have come close
to breaking the streak.
Just three weeks ago, Turnbull
almost missed a game against Ohio
State when he woke up feeling mis-
erable. He rushed to get medical
attention, was prescribed antibiot-
ics and played in the series.
Miller, on the other hand, has
been a constant fixture on the team
for nearly four years.
But three seasons ago, he had a
sharp pain in his back from sleep-
ing weirdly one night and almost
missed his collegiate debut. Miller
tat out a practice and had to
prove he deserved a spot in the
lineup on the day of the game.
And the Michigan coaching
staff and their teammates are
grateful that Miller and Turnbull
haven't missed games.
"Those two guys play hard,
play hard every night," Michigan
assistant coach Mel Pearson said.
"So it's not that they're just get-
ting through games. They're put-
ting their bodies on the line every
"Itgoes to show the other guys
that if you play hard, there's no
reason you can't play every game.
Obviously, you have to have some
luck, too, with injuries and what-
have sent a team to some far-off
destination to appear in the NCAA
Tournament since Michigan's last
appearance in 1998. The need to
suit up for the Big Dance has been,
at times, overwhelming, especially
for the handful of players destined
to bring the Wolverines back to
prominence - Daniel Horton,
Dion Harris and, most recently,
Every year Michigan doesn't
make the tournament, it cripples
the program more and more.
Coming into this year, the Ath-
letic Department practically had
to get on its collective hands and
knees and beg students to buy
But that doesn't matter any-
They are in.
Even if the game is at Idaho or
Miami or another place that's a
20-plus hour drive away, and even
if the Wolverines bow out in the
first round, they made it. They're
in the tournament. That's all that
stake the entire time."
Added Beilein: "We were just
trying to keep our composure at
that point in a very great setting,
that was our big thing. Our coach-
ing staff, as much as we could, was
trying to show a 'yes face' in the
huddle. 'Just hang in there guys,
hang in there. We have to make a
couple of baskets and get stops."'
Minnesota coach Tubby Smith
said he can't recall a time his
team outrebounded the opponent
(30-13), shot 55 percent from the
field and lost. Under Smith, the
Golden Gophers were 33-1 when
leading at the half before Satur-
With its backs against the wall,
Michigan was fortunate that Lucas-
Perry scored in the double digits
for the first time since Feb. 15. The
guard hit back-to-back-to-back
3-pointers in the midst of a 28-13
Michigan run in the final 13 min-
utes of the game. Minnesota failed
Player and coach morale will
explode. Student interest will, too.
It'll help recruiting and schedul-
ing and ticket sales. Hell, it'll even
help T-shirt sales. Just getting in,
just hearing the name "Michigan"
on Selection Sunday, will com-
pletely alter the course of Michi-
It's the one thing the program
needed. It's the one thing the play-
ers - those like fifth-year seniors
David Merritt and C.J. Lee -
"The Duke win was pretty cool,
but this is probably my personal
No. 1," Merritt said after the game,
reflecting on his career as a Wol-
verine with a smile on his face.
It's a lot of people's No. 1 game. I
mean, it's not every day you clinch
a spot in the NCAA Tournament -
especially if you're at Michigan.
- Reid has heard there's
nothing to do in Boise, Idaho.
One friend told him, "It's just like
Utah, but worse." Reid can be
reached at email@example.com.
to score for almost the last five min-
ForHarris, Lucas-Perry's perfor-
mance was a long time coming.
"We've kind of been on him
because he hasn't been playing his
best like we expected him to play,"
Harris said. "We kept saying, like,
'One of these days is going to be
your big game.' Today, when we
needed (it) the most, it was his big
Lucas-Perry's heroics allow
Michiganto prepare for the BigTen
Tournament. knowing the Selec-
tion Committee will look favorably
on Michigan's recent performance
over the past week and a half --beat
No. 19 Purdue, nearly knocked off
Wisconsin and topped Minnesota.
But equally importantly, the
Wolverines may have finally found
a consistent third scorer all year
behind Harris and Sims. Head-
ing into postseason play, Michigan
hopes Lucas-Perry can be that guy.
The Wolverines grapple for aloose ball in their 67-64 win at Minnesota.
ines are more mature and better
able to handle the pressure.
The younger players, who last
March were only looking ahead
to the summer and next season,
now have praiseworthy postsea-
Harris and junior forward
DeShawn Sims have grown up in
just one season. They took control
of Saturday's game when it mat-
tered most. Along with redshirt
freshman guard Laval Lucas-Per-
ry's 19 points, they accounted for
85 percent of Michigan's offen-
"We just did a great job as a
unit and doing some things in a
more mature manner," Sims said.
"Not like we did last year. We
were more mature in game situ-
Sims pointed to shot selection
and getting stops on defense as
signs of the team's growing matu-
rity. A year ago, Michigan's youth
was obvious as the Wolverines
learned Beilein's system. The
growing pains were evident from
the inadequate shots, the five- or
six-minute scoring droughts, and
the inability to close out halves.
Now, it's easy to forget last
year's 10 victories. After all, the
Wolverines collected the season's
10th win Dec. 29 against North
Carolina Central - before confer-
ence play even began.
"That's what you have to go
through to become a better team,"
Beilein said. "You need to. And
you can have a growth mindset:
'If adversity is going to make me
better, or adversity is woe is me.'
At times we've had those issues,
but at the same time, we've grown
a great deal."
Playing in March is guaranteed
for all, but it becomes a privilege
for just 65 teams. And like Cortez
against the Aztecs, Michigan isn't
yet ready to retreat.
Senior Tim Miller and senior Travis Turnbull have played in 160 games.
The streak began when the two found success on lines with a vari-
freshmenwerethird-line forwards. ety of teammates this year. The
As the streak has progressed, their two have been interchangeable at
skill sets - and roles on the team - times. From top-line right winger
have evolved. Now, they sit just 13 to third-line center, they have been
games behind Ted Kramer (1989- swapping positions all season.
1992), who holds Michigan's record Turnbull currently centers the
for games played. team's third line and sparked its
In the meantime, Miller has recent surge. The line has scored
emerged as one of the Wolverines' four goals total in Michigan's last
top penalty killers with his tough, two series.
physical presence, anticipation and "Wherever the coaches put us,
shot-blocking skills. Turnbull has we just try to make the line better,"
flourished on the other side of spe- Miller said. "It's not really about
cial teams: the power play. getting promoted or demoted."
"(Miller's) kind of the leader of. In essence, the under-the-radar
the penalty kill unit," senior goalie streak of games played encapsu-
Billy Sauer said. "When we get a lates this idea of just doing their
penalty in a game, he actually gets jobs. And the Wolverines are now
pretty excited to go out there and hoping that Miller and Turnbull
kill penalties. When you talk to him can add a few postseason games to
about it, he's really excited about it their run.
and takes his role very seriously. "If you would have asked me, I
"You see the same thing with would have assumed they missed
Travis and the power play. He's games atsome point," Pearson said.
always talking to guys, figuring out "But I'm glad their streak is intact
what they can do better." because we definitely need them in
Both Miller and Turnbull have the first round of the playoffs."
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