Anthony Wright came off the bench to have a big game in Michigan’s win over Connecticut. AP photo.
So, how big was Michigan’s victory over the University of Connecticut on Sunday?
“I don’t have an answer for that yet,” said Wolverine basketball coach John Beilein after the contest at Crisler Arena. “I’ll get back to you at the end of the season and I’ll have an answer then.”
Certainly Michigan’s 68-63 win over No. 15-ranked Connecticut was the biggest win for the Wolverines this season. Finally, in its 17th game of the season, the team got a signature win.
But, of course, it’s all about getting into the NCAA tournament. Michigan is 10-7 and 3-2 in Big Ten play. The next three games are all against nationally-ranked teams: at Wisconsin, at Purdue and home against Michigan State. The Wolverines still have some work to do.
The Michigan faithful recognized it was a big win. At the buzzer, many in the crowd of 13,536 stormed the court and celebrated the victory.
“It’s great to play in front of the big crowd and I think we elevated our game against good competition,” said Michigan forward DeShawn Sims.
Sims was his usual stellar self with eight points and 11 rebounds but for the first time in a while he had a lot of help. It was the first game in more than a month that he scored less than 10 points and Michigan still won.
Manny Harris, as usual, led Michigan with a game-high 18 points ( he leads the Big Ten in scoring) but the big two got a lot of help on Sunday.
“It’s usually the Sims and Harris show,” said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun. “When they have more people contributing, Michigan is very tough.”
Stu Douglass, who scored 20 points last year in a loss at Connecticut, added 13 points and Zack Novak added 10 for the Wolverines but Michigan’s bench also come through.
Anthony Wright, who has sat much of the year and never got off the bench in an earlier loss to Northwestern, had nine points on three big three-pointers and backup center Zack Gibson had four points, four rebounds, a block and two steals in relief of Sims, who picked up early foul trouble.
“Our bench hasn’t played well most of the year,” said Beilein. “But they really came through today.”
“I was loose coming into the game,” said Wright. “I was open for the three.”
Michigan shot only 37 percent from the floor for the game and was outrebounded 41-35.
“We don’t win too many games when we shoot that poorly,” said Beilein. “I thought it was a gutty performance by our guys. We worked hard.”
Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez came into the locker-room after the game and reportedly told the team they showed great toughness in the victory. Rodriguez was entertaining a number of football recruits at the contest.
Michigan led by nine points at halftime, 32-23, but the Huskies went on a 7-2 run as the second half began and it was close the rest of the way.
Zack Novak hit a three-pointer from the top of they with 1:26 to play to break a 58-58 and give Michigan a lead they wouldn’t lose. Next time down the floor, Stu Douglass stole the ball from Connecticut’s Kembra Walker and Manny Harris picked up the loose ball and drove the length of the floor to score on a layup with 1:08 to play.
“Stu made the play,” said Harris. “I just picked it up. All my teammates were contributing today. This win gives us all confidence.”
It was the third straight loss for Connecticut, 11-6. The last time the Huskies lost three straight was to close out the 2006-07 season when the school failed to make the postseason for the first time in 20 years.
One big factor in the win for
Michigan, as usual, was three-point shooting. The Wolverines hit nine from beyond the arc while Connecticut had only one in 11 attempts.
After the game, Douglass ran through the crowd in search of the game ball.
“I wanted to make sure no one stole it,” he said. “But one of our security guys got it, so it’s O.K.”
Douglass and his friend Novak are both sophomore starters in the backcourt and both are from Indiana. They have similar backrounds but they disagree about the NFL playoffs.
“We win and Brett Favre has a big day, nothing could be better,” said Novak, who hails from Chesterton, Ind. “I don’t know why but he’s my favorite athlete. I’ve followed him since I was a kid and I’ve always liked him.”
Michigan’s win came as Favre’s Minnesota Vikings were knocking off the Dallas Cowboys in NFL postseason play.
“I don’t know what he’s talking about,” said Douglass, from Carmel, Ind. “Peyton Manning and the Colts are going to win it all.”
The Wolverines will take on Wisconsin Wednesday and will play only Big Ten conference games the rest of the way.
For more info: mogoblue, Detroit News, Detroit Free Press