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March 29, 2013 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-03-29

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2B - Aprill1, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

At Cowboys Stadium, the ending that didn't come

t was supposed to end here.
The script was all lined
up, the pen readied to ink a
rather proper and realistic ending
to this season. Everyone loves a
circular narrative structure, and
this script even had those book-
ends right.
What first appeared a dream
Michigan year seemed destined
to end in one way: early, decisively
and painfully. The whole year had
felt that way.
The year,
you see,
started seven
months ago,
when, as stu-
dents arrived
on campus in
Ann Arbor,
the Michigan
football team STEPHEN J.
walked into NESBITT
the palatial
Cowboys
Stadium on Sept.1 for the season
opener against Southeastern Con-
ference powerhouse Alabama, the
eventual national champion.
Any overenthusiastic hopes of
a Michigan football champion-
ship were blown to bits right then
and there. And things didn't get
easier during the second semester,
either. The men's basketball team,
which entered the season with
everybit of hype and hoopla, fell
from as high asa No. 1 ranking,
lost a grip on the regular-season
Big Ten title and was bounced by
Wisconsin in the second round of
the conference tournament. Even
the hockey team, enduring its
worst season in over two decades,
collapsed this year - it nearly
made a historic run before it was
stopped a game short of extend-
ing its record streak of 22 NCAA
Tournament appearances.
Every ending this year: early,
decisive and painful.
All hopes for ahappy ending

hitched on the Big Dance.
The narrative said that the
year was supposed to end this
weekend, back in that exact same
venue it began in - Cowboys Sta-
dium - and against another SEC
power, Florida, this time. Well,
that's if the Wolverines even got
that far - they were supposed to
fall to Kansas, but fate somehow
tilted back in Michigan's favor in
the final moments.
Sure, the Wolverines had a
wealth of talent, but they came
wounded into the NCAA Tourna-
ment. They'd never hold together.
They were underdogs and lower
seeds againstboth one-seed
Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen and
third-seeded Florida in the Elite
Eight. Few realistically expected
them to survive the South Region.
It was supposed to end at Cow-
boys Stadium.
S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C
The chant started in the north-
west corner of Cowboys Stadium;
it spread rapidly through the
crowd of 90,413 until nearly every
crimson-clad fan was on his or
her feet. The chorus grew louder
and louder as the final seconds
ticked off the clock in Arlington,
Texas.
A season that held so much
promise, with Michigan coming
off a BCS bowl appearance and
with Denard Robinson at the
helm for one final season, began
with a face-washing: Alabama 41,
Michigan 14.
Juwan Howard watched from
field level. He, too, had hoped the
Wolverines could shock Alabama,
shock the world like he and the
Fab Five had proclaimed two
decades earlier. But he could only
shake his head at the outcome.
Howard didn't know Michigan
would be back seven months later,

playing a different sport this time.
He didn't know the Wolverines
would be fighting for their first
Final Four berth since the Fab
Five. He didn't know a different
Michigan team would shock the
world.
The parallels between the two
events - the beginning and the
supposed end - are striking. But
the opposites are even more so.
The seasonbegan with redshirt
junior left tackle Taylor Lewan,
flanked by a trainer, limping his
way off the painted turf and up
the tunnel at Cowboys Stadium.
He was hurt, insulted, defeated.
The season wasn't expected
to extend past this weekend
despite the everydaybrilliance of
sophomore guard Trey Burke. He
couldn't carrythe team alone, but
he'd been expected to do just that
all year. He, like Lewan, wasn't
himself. Burke battled a flu virus
in the Elite Eight, and as the clock
hit zeros, he lay on his back on the
court, exhausted. But then he was
picked up and lifted into the airby
freshman forward Mitch McGary.
They were hurt, at times insulted,
but not yet defeated.
Seven months ago, Michigan
athletic director Dave Brandon
followed Lewan up the tunnel
with his head bowed. But on Sun-
day, he beamed, shook Michigan
coach John Beilein's hand and
embraced everyone he could find
in front of the Wolverines' bench.
Seven months ago, the football
team lost 41-14, but on Sunday the
basketball team led 41-17 with
four minutes remaining in the
first half
And seven months ago, an
S-E-C chant rained down inside
Cowboys Stadium, but on Sunday
there was a different ring.
IT'S GREAT-

TOtDNEEDL/Daily
Sophomore guard Trey Burke saved Michigan tram ao esit io the Sweetl16 with a 30-last 3-painter at the enoa regulation.

It started softly.
TO BE-
The chant began to rise above
the cheers, buffeting the air inside
the House that Jerry Built.
A MICHIGAN WOLVERINE
This wasn't the sound they
expected in Arlington. Ovations
instead of tears. Victory instead
of defeat. A beginning instead of
an ending.
The Michigan men's basketball
team was never actually supposed
to reach the Final Four. The Wol-
verines weren't that good, right?
But, fueled primarily by a mot-
ley crew of underclassmen and
a superstar sophomore, they are
that good. And now they're on to
Atlanta and the program's first
Final Four appearance since 1993,
when most of the freshman class
wasn't even born.
It was supposed to end here.
But the end of this season, this
year, is yet to come.
- Nesbitt can be reached
at stnesbit@umich.edu or on
Twitter @stephenjnesbitt

ERIN KIlRKLAND/Daily
Denard Robinson and the Michigan football team had less luck at Cowboys Stadium.

\ ,
TODD NEEDLE/Daily
Freshman forward Glenn Robinson Il made a crucial reverse layup late Friday.

The Florida Gator never even had a chance to cheer in Michigan's dominant win.

A Nik Stauskas kind of day

By EVERETT COOK
Daily Sports Editor
After his first shot in warm-
ups, Nik Stauskas knew it was
goingto be a good shooting day.
Maybe the rest of the arena,
and the rest of the Michigan
men's basketball team didn't
know it, but the freshman guard.
did. By his standards, Stauskas
- the Wolverines' sharpshoot-
er - had been in a funk from
beyond the 3-point line, strug-
gling to find the form that had
him ascend from sixth man off
the bench to one of the best pure
shooters in the country.
In the earlier rounds of the
NCAA Tournament, Stauskas's
shots from deep looked flat. They
took hard bounces off the rim -
the soft, floating touch wasn't
there.
So on Sunday, Stauskas felt
what nobody else could've pre-
dicted because his shots in
warm-ups felt like his shots from
the beginning of the season. The
freshman knew he was in for
a big game, and it showed. He
scored a game-high 22 points and
didn't miss a shot on six attempts
from downtown, carrying Mich-
igan to a 79-59 win over Florida
to advance to the Final Four.
"I was calling it for the last
week - I was due for one of these
games," Stauskas said. "It's been
a while. ... My jumper felt real
good so I just let it fly."
For the majority of the first
half, it looked like Florida had
forgotten to scout the sharp-

shooting Stauskas. While Michi-
gan (12-6 Big Ten, 30-7 overall)
moved the ball around on offense
and in transition, Stauskas was
left open in the corner. Last
week, there was a good chance
he didn't connect on the open
attempts.
But on Sunday, he made the
Gators pay. Time after time,
Stauskas calmly sunk the open
looks from the corner, as he fin-
ished the first half with 19 points,
including five 3-pointers.
As has been the case for
most of the season, making the
first shot was key for Stauskas.
Known for his antics after mak-
ing big shots but also for strug-
gling late in games if his first
few attempts don't go in, a clean
swoosh on his first made 3-point
attempt proved crucial.
"Every time Nik makes that
first three, we call it popping off,"
said junior guard Tim Hardaway
Jr. "Nik gets excited and puts on
the goggles and everything. Once
he gets like-that, you can call it
quits."
After his third made 3-point
attempt - again, from the corner
- Stauskas went crazy, running
down the court, smiling and wag-
ging his tongue. The last time he
had shot more than 50 percent
from deep was in the beginning
of February against Ohio State,
which would be acceptable for
any Wolverine except for Staus-
kas.
On Saturday, he became the
first player in an NCAA Regional
final to finish 6-for-6 on 3-point-

UN-FOUR-GETTABLE
From Page 1B
scenes leader on a Big Ten
Championship team, the 2011-
12 Michigan squad. Alongside
fellow fourth-year players Stu
Douglass and Zack Novak, he
was rewarded with a jersey
in last season's senior night
ceremony. He cried after Ohio
eliminated the Wolverines from
last year's NCAA Tournament
because it was his last game.
Until it wasn't.
He had redshirted his fresh-
man year and was thus eligible
for a fifth year, which he decid-
ed to take over the summer. This
year, he was given another com-
memorative jersey at his second
career Senior Night.
"When I was taking my time
and making my decision on
whether I was going to come
back or not, I just looked atit-
and I said that, 'We were going
have all our pieces,"' Person
said. "I feel like throughout the
whole year, my only goal was to
get this team to this point where
we're at right now, cutting down
the nets, going to the Final Four.
"It's exactly what I envi-
sioned when I stepped on
campus, and this is what I envi-
sioned last year when I made my
decision to come back for a fifth
year."
None of Beilein's first
671 career wins earned
him a Gatorade shower.
After 34 years of coaching and
672 wins, Beilein just didn't see
it coming.
"All I know is I saw this red
substance, this red coming at
me," Beilein said. "I said, 'Oh my
God, it's one of those.'
"I was trying not to drown."
Beilein made it out alive, but
his shirt didn't. An hour later, it
was hanging in an empty locker
cubby.
"You know, I'm not going to
wear anything with red on it,
that's for sure," he joked.
Instead, Beilein said he'd be
forced to wear a sweat suit home
- a rarity for him.
"I've always worn the tie
home, whether it was a five-
hour trip," he said.
But there was a day when the
five-hour trip wasn't a char-
tered flight home from Dallas,
where he can watch clips from
the game that just ended, but
instead long van trips as the
head coach at Division II LeM-
4

TODD NEEDLE/Daily
Michigan coach John Beilein reached
his first Final Four in 35 years coaching.
oyne when AM radio was his
only option.
"We did alot of van travel,
and I'd be driving one, and my
assistant would be driving the
other," he said. "I'd be listening
to Syracuse playing George-
town."
Nearly 30 years later, Syra-
cuse, of course, is the Wolver-
ines' opponent in the Final Four.
Beilein recalled listening to the
radio call of Villanova winning
the 1985 National Champion-
ship, a place he never imagined
he'd reach.
"Absolutely not. I dreamed
of it."
In his first year at Michigan,
the 2007-08 campaign, a Final
Four appearance was nearly
as unlikely. The Wolverines
finished 10-22 and the major-
ity of the small fan base that
actually cared about the basket-
ball program thought Beilein
- his offensive and defensive
schemes, his recruiting, his
lack of public persona - would
never win him anything in the
Big Ten, let alone in the tourna-
ment.
"I get goosebumps just think-
ing about it," said senior Matt
Vogrich, who came to Michigan
the following year, when it made
a shocking late-season run to
earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
"We trusted coach Beilein, all of
us. He said he was going to build
the program up, and his confi-
dence never wavered.
"Everyone can eat their
words. He's the right man for
the job at Michigan."
Daniel Wasserman can be
reached at dwass@umich.edu,
or on Twitter @dwasserman

Freshman guard Nik Stauskas led all scorers with 22 points against Florida.
ers. For the first time since the dribbled once to his left. With a
tournament started, shooting defender close on his right and
looked fun for him again. the baseline close on his left,
"Nik was incredible," Hard- Stauskas hoisted up another dag-
away said. "They just left him ger from deep. His 20th, 21st and
wide open, and it's tough for 22nd points barely nicked the
them when there are three or rim and put Michigan up by 14.
four shooters on the court at the The Gator, Florida's mascot,
same time. They had to pick their looked up at the scoreboard
poison on who to defend and who momentarily before darting his
to leave open. Nik had the hot head back down quickly. It didn't
hand for the whole team today." need the giant Jumbotron to tell
On his last made 3-pointer of it something that was already
the day, Stauskas received a pass very clear - it was just a Nik
in the corner after a kickout from Stauskas type of afternoon, full
the post. He had an open look of 3-pointers, goggles and lots
but put the ball on the court and and lots of smiles.

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