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January 27, 2013Michigan junior wing Tim Hardaway Jr. has always been able to score, and that hasn't changed this year. It's his work on the defensive end, though, that has impressed head coach John Beilein the most.
Hardaway's young teammates have continued to improve in transition and halfcourt defense, but they still have plenty to learn. Hardaway (16.2 points per game, 48.8 percent shooting) should be their example, Beilein said.
"As we saw as the year went on and in the preseason, he was embracing ideas. Seeing somebody get hot in practice and going way back he'd day, 'Coach, I'm going to take him,'" Beilein said. "That leadership - he wanted to be more of a factor defensively.
"Tim was just like most freshmen defensively. That's why most freshmen have trouble getting on the court, because of defense. We sort of embrace that challenge of teaching them defense early. [Now] Tim has taken over right where [Zack] Novak and Douglass left off. Not only am I guarding my man, but I'm helping the rest of you figure it out."
He locked up Purdue's D.J. Byrd after Byrd hit three, first half triples to help the Boilermakers to a one-point halftime lead in Michigan's Thursday win. His footwork and communication have improved dramatically, Beilein said, to the point that he can be considered a stopper.
Purdue was 0-for-9 from three-point range and Byrd 0-for-2 after the half thanks in large part to Hardaway.
"In the past his closeouts, the technique that he was using, his habits were holding him back a little bit [on defense]," Beilein said. "He worked very hard on his closeouts and his posture and how he shuffled his feet."
Hardaway is third on the team in steals and is U-M's best defensive rebounder this season, averaging 5.1 per game. He's continued to evolve on offense, as well, shooting 40.4 percent from three-point range and 48.8 percent from the floor.
Redshirt sophomore big man Jon Horford excelled in his eight minutes against Purdue, the most he's played since returning two weeks ago from a dislocated kneecap. Horford is still not 100 percent, Beilein said, but he's getting closer and could continue to pick up more minutes if he plays as well as he did Thursday.
The Game: No. 2 Michigan (18-1, 5-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (15-5, 2-4)
Time: 6:00 eastern, Assembly Hall, Champaign, Ill.
TV/radio: BTN; WWJ-AM (950), WWWW-FM (102.9).
Line: Michigan by 6.
On the line: Michigan is ranked No. 2 nationally and in good position for the nation's No. 1 ranking following No. 1 Duke's blowout loss at Miami. U-M hasn't been No. 1 since the 1992-93 season.
Prediction: Michigan 64, Illinois 60