Andy Reid: Don't be mistaken — UCLA is a statement game

BY ANDY REID
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 18, 2008

At yesterday’s press conference, Michigan coach John Beilein said that, win or lose, tomorrow’s game is not a statement game for the Wolverines. Well, let’s take a look at the basics:

Opponent: No. 4 UCLA, one of the most storied programs in college basketball and a legitimate national title contender.

Arena: World-famous Madison Square Garden.

Stage: A nationally televised primetime matchup in the semifinal round of the 2K Sports Classic.

Stakes: An ever-important early season RPI-booster that could skyrocket Michigan to NCAA Tournament consideration.

Tell me, Beilein. How exactly would that not be a statement win?

Talking about the game, Beilein was a little timid, calling it a measuring stick for his team’s improvement since last year. If the Wolverines lose, they’ll know what needs to be worked on.

But what if they win?

“(It's) awful early to say it’s a statement game,” Beilein said.

It may be early, but with the nation watching tomorrow, it’s time for the Wolverines to step into the spotlight.

The coach has a point — it’s just a few games into the year, but that should make tomorrow even more important. UCLA looked sluggish at home in the second round of the 2K Sports Classic, squeaking out a 64-59 win against Miami (Ohio). If the Bruins have similar problems tomorrow, and Michigan pounces early, hangs on and wins — well, more power to the Wolverines.

They still would have beaten a top-five team. They still would have performed in a tournament setting. Yes, that definitely sounds like a statement.

It’s not the team the Bruins are now. It’s the team they will be come tournament time. If UCLA hasn’t perfected its offense yet, so what? No one’s going to remember that if Michigan’s “Key Win” column includes the Bruins during Bubble Watch. A win against UCLA is still a win against UCLA — and I can guarantee you that, come March, the Bruins will contend for a No. 1 seed.

And chances are, Beilein’s not downplaying this game in the locker room like he did at the presser. Junior DeShawn Sims and sophomore Manny Harris both talked about the statement a win against the Bruins would make, and that’s exactly how they should be thinking.

Sims’s and Harris’s faces lit up when asked about this game. They’re excited to play. Their practice took on a new level of intensity. And they’re clearly using the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the nation as motivation.

Excitement, motivation, intensity — no one used these words to describe last year’s lackluster campaign. The players want to use the term “statement game” to get up for the Bruins.

And why not? Let’s be honest — this is one. It’s not only important for this season, but also Beilein's efforts to rebuild the program. The Wolverines don’t need to win tomorrow to get there, but a nationally televised win over UCLA would certainly be a push in the right direction.

This game — whether it’s played on Nov. 20, March 20 or anywhere in between — is more than just a measuring stick.

It’s a chance to prove the Wolverines are back.

— Reid can be reached at andyreid@umich.edu