INDIANAPOLIS – Playing against a fast-breaking Illinois
team, Michigan knew going into Saturday’s game that it had to
hold onto the ball if it was going to have a chance.

The plan lasted for two possessions.

The Fighting Illini came out pressuring defensively, and the
Wolverines could not withstand the heat. After two decent offensive
possessions, Michigan turned the ball over on four of its next five
times down the floor. Those turnovers led to seven Illinois points,
as the Illini jumped out to a quick 13-5 lead before Michigan coach
Tommy Amaker called a timeout.

The Wolverines never completely recovered.

“There were just a few plays which didn’t go our
way,” Michigan sophomore guard Daniel Horton said. “I
got double-teamed once, and tried to throw the ball off the guy out
of bounds to save a timeout and it hit him and bounced back in
bounds. We didn’t get back in transition a couple times and
they leaked out and got easy baskets.”

When Illinois coach Bruce Weber replaced current Kansas coach
Bill Self as the Illini headman during the off-season, he
instituted a pressure defense. The Fighting Illini guards used that
system and met their Michigan counterparts at halfcourt, keeping
the Wolverines out of a rhythm. Illinois forced 15 Michigan
turnovers resulting in 22 Fighting Illini points. Illinois also did
a great job holding onto the ball against a Michigan team that led
the Big Ten in steals this season. Discrediting two late turnovers
as the clock was running out, Illinois turned the ball over just
four times resulting in four Michigan points.

The catalyst for the Illinois onslaught was sophomore guard Dee
Brown. The former McDonald’s All-American scored a 3-pointer
and a quick lay-up during the initial Illinois run, making his mark
by pressuring in the backcourt on defense and then getting behind
the opposing defense on the fast break.

“One thing you have to be aware of when you play Illinois,
anytime you put a shot up, Dee Brown is out of there,” Horton
said. “He’s not going to get a rebound, so he looks to
get out in transition.”

Harris shines: On Thursday night before Michigan’s
quarterfinal game against Iowa, freshman Amadou Ba told freshman
guard Dion Harris that someday Harris was going to shoot the ball
real well, and when that day came, he’d feel sorry for the
other team.

That day was Friday.

Harris scored a career-high 23 points on Thursday against Iowa
while playing one of the best games of his season. After the
Wolverines missed their first eight 3-pointers and had a sluggish
offensive start, Harris ignited Michigan from beyond the arc by
hitting six consecutive 3-pointers. Harris finished 8-for-11 from
the field.

“I think the team wants me to shoot when I’m open,
and I was ready to shoot, and I knocked the shots down,”
Harris said.

Although Harris shot 4-for-11 and made just one 3-pointer
against Illinois, he played as confident as he has all season. Both
Harris and Horton have shown improvement in that area and, with the
exception of the beginning of the Iowa game, have settled for fewer
poor shots on the outside.

“I think we have been more aggressive these last few
games,” Horton said. “We knew we had to be more
aggressive as a team, and with the ball being in our hands the
majority of the time, it just happened to fall that way.”

Harris failed to contribute significantly during the latter half
of the conference season, but shined last week against Northwestern
after sophomore Lester Abram gave Harris his starting spot. Harris
has started ever since.

“I think it’s obvious that it’s been the shot
in the arm for our team,” Amaker said.

Notes: Illinois was just the second No. 1 seed to advance
to the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Michigan State was the
last to do so when it won the tournament in 1999 …
Discounting forfeited games from 1998 and 1999, Michigan has won
just two Big Ten Tournament games. Michigan won the inaugural
tournament in 1998 … With four blocks against Illinois,
Courtney Sims finished with 61 blocks and became the first freshman
to lead the conference in blocks since Penn State’s Calvin
Booth did so in 1996.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.