The Michigan basketball team is about to wake up in the city
that never sleeps.

The Wolverines put together one of their most complete
performances of the season in the NIT quarterfinals last night,
pulling away from jet-lagged Hawaii for an 88-73 win in front of
10,306 fans at Crisler Arena. With the victory, Michigan grabbed a
berth in the NIT Final Four in New York, where it will face the
winner of tonight’s Oregon-Notre Dame in the
tournament’s semifinals.

“Just watching our kids play, I thought we played with a
great deal of passion,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
“It was fun coaching them, I think they had fun playing, and
we beat a basketball team that’s pretty darn good.”

Hawaii, which like Michigan had just one day of rest after
playing a second-round game at home on Monday, stayed with the
Wolverines through the initial moments of the game. But as the
Rainbow Warriors began to fatigue, Michigan’s balanced attack
took control of the game.

Five Wolverines scored in double figures, led by sophomore
Lester Abram, who posted 17 points in his first game since injuring
his left shoulder in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against
Iowa.

Senior Bernard Robinson — playing in his final home game
— netted 14 points, as did forward Graham Brown, while guards
Daniel Horton and Dion Harris combined for 25 points, and the
Wolverines dished out 18 assists while carving up Hawaii’s
defense.

“The more we played over the course of the season, the
better we got as a team,” Horton said. “Early on, we
had a lot of guys doing a lot of great individual things, but once
we got in the Big Ten, we realized we had to get better as a team
— it’s paid off all season, and it especially paid off
tonight.”

Abram was particularly impressive in light of his four-game
absence from the lineup. With Robinson falling into early foul
trouble — he was hit with his second foul just eight minutes
into the game — Amaker turned to Abram, and the
Wolverines’ leading scorer responded with a performance that
surpassed everyone’s expectations.

“I wasn’t anticipating to play him as much as I
did,” said Amaker of Abram’s 21 minutes. “He
certainly came through for us; to play the way he did after the
long layoff says a lot about that kid’s toughness and his
desire to do good things for this program.”

Up by seven with just under 10 minutes left in the second half,
Michigan began to pull away from the Rainbow Warriors, thanks, in
no small part, to Harris.

Harris hit two tough shots and set up Brown and center Courtney
Sims for a basket each over a minute-and-a-half span, allowing the
Wolverines to grab a 75-62 lead.

The Wolverines extended their lead to as much as 23, thanks to a
22-6 run that was highlighted by a spectacular Horton-to-Brent
Petway alley-oop that sent the already-raucous crowd into a
frenzy.

The Michigan faithful were a major storyline for the third
straight game. Last night’s crowd may have been the most
impressive of the three-game NIT homestand, as the fans saluted the
Wolverines with multiple standing ovations. And the noise level
rose to a deafening volume when Michigan cleared its bench at the
end of the rout, and Robinson left the Crisler Arena court for the
last time.

“(The crowd’s) been tremendous, and they’ve
helped us out a lot,” Robinson said. “It’s been
the best crowd I’ve seen — they’ve been cheering
every moment, whether we’re losing or winning.

“It feels good, we’re just going to savor the
moment.”

Michigan opened up a 43-37 halftime lead, despite having to
overcome some hot Hawaii shooting and Robinson’s foul
trouble. Abram scored 12 of his points in that first stanza.

The Wolverines have not been to the NIT Final Four since winning
it in the later-forfeited 1997 season, but there’s little
question that last night’s victory gives them the confidence
they’ll need heading into Madison Square Garden.

“It’s been a blessing for us to be in this
tournament,” Amaker said. “We’ve found something
within our team and our fan support — to go to New York City
is certainly a great benchmark for this team.”

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