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January 17, 2013The last time two top 10 teams tangled in Minnesota's Williams Arena, Rickey Green was playing point guard for Michigan in a six-point win. The Wolverines played spoiler again Thursday night in an 83-75 victory, one in which they proved they're serious about capturing a second straight Big Ten title.
Life on the road on the Big Ten is tougher than ever - at least it should be, with seven teams set to crack next week's top 25. U-M, though, bounced back from a three-point loss at Ohio State with an outstanding performance from start to finish.
"If they win there," analyst Tim McCormick said before the game, "this might be a special team."
Not only did they win, they seized complete control after the first eight minutes, expanding the lead to 19 on a steal and 360 dunk from freshman Glenn Robinson III that left the Williams Arena crowd in stunned silence.
"It was a nice dunk," head coach John Beilein deadpanned in the postgame. "I'm not going to tell him, 'only dunk one way.'
"I'm glad they called timeout because we needed to settle our guys down. Trey Burke was tremendous in the huddle at that time saying, 'what would we think if we were down 19? They will be ready to battle back.'"
To the Golden Gophers' credit, they did. To Michigan's, the Wolverines weathered the storm after Minnesota cut it to seven, leading some to call them the prohibitive Big Ten favorite five games into the conference slate.
Beilein wasn't ready to anoint his young team just yet.
"I don't think any game is really that important yet, but it's important for your mental health," Beilein said. "We have a tough Purdue game and a week before a really tough schedule. That would be a tough week with a loss here.
"But every road win you can measure up is important. You have to get them. Winning road games in this league in the past meant going through three ranked teams, maybe four. With Wisconsin's win at Indiana, we'll have seven ranked teams very soon. That's seven games you have to play against really good, ranked teams on the road. So this is really important if you're going to move to the top of the standings."
They set the tone early with their defense and great play on both ends from Tim Hardaway Jr. Once a defensive liability, Hardaway showed his vast improvement in calling out the defenses and setting the tone for a 16-3 run with 17 first half points, hitting triple after triple.
The Gophers limited his catches in the second half, but by then the damage was done.
"He was absolutely huge," Beilein said. "For people who don't understand about Tim, Tim anchors our defense. His freshman year like most freshmen, people would attack him. They can't attack him right now.
"He really anchors that whole defense. He's back there calling everything out to everybody else with all the switching, all the things we need to do. He's really a key on this team."
He wasn't a one-man show, though. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke heated up in the second half and ran the break well, spearheading 24 Michigan points in transition. Stauskas notched a triple followed by a driving, two-hand slam, frosh Caris LeVert hit a three of his own and redshirt junior big man Jordan Morgan provided a huge lift with a great start to the second half.
Freshman Spike Albrecht, too, hit a runner off the high glass that kept the momentum trending positive.
"The second half, everybody had their little spot," Beilein said. "That's what can make this team really good, if we get that type of contribution off the bench, that type of intensity.
"That was a great win over a really, really good team on the road."