One of the most popular sports
clichés is that of the wake-up call.

Kate Green

Whenever a team is struggling through mediocre wins or
inexcusable losses, players and TV announcers galore wait for the
proverbial ring of the phone.

For Michigan, the call came on Dec. 30 when Boston University
upset the Wolverines 61-60 at Crisler Arena.

Apparently, the Wolverines answered.

“The Boston loss kind of opened our eyes,” Michigan
guard Daniel Horton said. “We hadn’t played good
basketball for a four- or five-game stretch, and it caught up with
us.”

After that stunning loss, Michigan pounded Fairfield, 66-43, and
then repeated the feat in last night’s 78-54 victory over
Northwestern.

Granted, it’s not like beating Duke and Connecticut back
to back, but for a team that had to hold on for dear life to knock
off Central Michigan and Delaware State, the impressive showings
are a welcome sign.

“The Boston game and before, we weren’t really
putting together a full game,” forward J.C. Mathis said.
“But these last two games, we’ve played well for most
or all of the game, and that’s been the
difference.”

Last night, as has been the norm for the Wolverines in their
wins this year, Michigan came bolting out of the starting
gates.

It looked like the Harlem Globetrotters against the Washington
Generals for the first 20 minutes last night. Michigan shot a
ridiculous 76.2 percent from the field in the first half —
including a 12-for-13 mark from inside the 3-point line.

But the real difference that separated last night’s
Wolverines from the Wolverines of Dec. 30 was that, once they had
the Wildcats on the ropes, they didn’t let up.

There was a short stretch last night — about six minutes
in the second half — when the Michigan offense looked about
as effective as the navigational system on the Titanic.

Unlike the pre-New Year’s Day games, though, the
Wolverines never allowed Northwestern to make a run.

Following a Jitim Young 3-point play that brought Northwestern
to within 57-44, the Wolverines cranked it up again, ending the
game on a 21-10 run.

“I was very pleased with (how we played with the
lead),” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said. “It was a
point of emphasis for us this week and coming into the game. We are
building, learning and growing.”

If that’s the case, and Amaker can really see his team
maturing — as it appears to the naked eye that they are
— then this team is right where it’s supposed to
be.

There’s a lot of hoopla that always surrounds college
basketball’s nonconference season, but when push comes to
shove, everything leading up to the conference season is fairly
unimportant.

In the Big Ten, for example, it’s almost unheard of for a
team to finish in the top four in the regular season conference
standings and not make it to the NCAA Tournament.

The kinks will always be there at the start of the year, but a
successful Big Ten campaign can erase those memories. Just ask
Michigan’s team from last year. Did anyone really care about
an 0-6 start after a near-Big Ten title?

Trust me, the folks over in East Lansing are hoping for that
exact scenario this year.

Forget Oakland, High Point and Bowling Green — the focus
for Michigan is, and will always be, centered on what happens
during the 16-game Big Ten schedule.

“We’re starting over a new season, the Big Ten
season,” center Graham Brown said. “We wanted to get
that first win, and we’re hoping to roll from
there.”

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu.

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