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April 7, 2013Michigan assistant LaVall Jordan called it a "proud papa" moment watching freshman Caris LeVert step up with huge minutes on the biggest stage, when U-M needed him most. John Beilein said the same about his entire group, which is now only one win away from a national title following a 61-56 win over Syracuse.
The Wolverines clawed and scraped their way to a win despite struggling to find their groove much of the night. The team win epitomized the way they'd pulled out wins all year, Beilein said, never quitting, never complaining even when the bounces didn't do their way.
"We're so proud. I am so proud," he said. "But the university, I know, is so proud of these young men tonight, all our fans everywhere. Given the great first half they played, then hanging on in the second half with no timeouts, was an incredible show of character and unity and all the things that we preach all the time, the poise.
"It's certainly a great moment for them and our university. I know everybody in Ann Arbor, the Michigan brand all over the world is very happy tonight."
They spilled out into the streets in Ann Arbor, a peaceful celebration in which furniture and storefronts were spared. The thousands of Wolverines fans who made the trip to Atlanta, meanwhile - and took over The Georgia Dome down the stretch - also took over restaurants all over Atlanta celebrating U-M's first national title game appearance since 1993.
Strangers in maize and blue hugged while 'The Victors' rang through the streets.
"It means so much for our university, for all our fans, for all the players that we have, students," Beilein continued. "It's just tremendous. For me, this is what I'm paid to do, is go out and coach young men and try to make them just good basketball players, but good student‑athletes, men of high character - all the things that parents of these kids have tried to do over the years and have done such a great job.
"I'm thrilled for everybody else. Right now, I just think about the next game, and Louisville is going to be a difficult game. We played against Rick [Pitino]'s teams at Kentucky one time when I was at Canisius, and West Virginia a few times. He's a brilliant coach with great schemes. It's going to be very difficult, but I need to study him a little bit more before I know exactly what to expect."
In other words, now isn't the time to enjoy his team's accomplishments.
"We have 40 minutes left," freshman point guard Spike Albrecht said. "Forty minutes."
And plenty of time for Beilein to celebrate afterward should his team bring home the school's second national basketball championship.
"Nothing is happening," he said. "As long as we're winning, I'm fine. I can't focus on that right now. I can't focus on the offensive end. All I can do is focus on the defensive end to help my team win.
"My teammates do a great job of sticking behind me whatever decision I make while I'm out there on the court. The shots are not falling, but I can do more than that. I can rebound. I can pass. I can defend. That's what it's going to take to win the championship, and that's what I'll do."
Sophomore point guard Trey Burke, too, struggled, only going 1-for-8.
"It was an off night for me," he said. "I try not to force things, though. I took two or three shots that were kind of forced, but I tried to just get guys involved. I knew that their whole game plan was to try to make me shoot tough, contested threes. I tried to get the ball into the middle as much as possible, tried to hit the open man, tried to contribute in different ways other than scoring."
"What really helps us, the arenas we play in all year long aren't that big, but they're big, 18,000, 17,000, 15,000, noisy. You've been to some of those places, so we're used to that a lot," he said. "The Michigan crowd was terrific. It really helped that we just came from Dallas, playing in that big arena. I think our kids felt very comfortable.
"What I try to do is focus in as a coach and not even look around. That basket is 10 feet, that basket is 10 feet, the floor is 94 - let's go play. I think we actually had that mentality. You start looking around that place, and I did for a minute - I'm not even going to look. This is incredible what I'm seeing in front of me."
"We studied so many of their games," he said. "They've got a great coaching staff. "We knew that was an area that we might be able to exploit if we could pass out of there. We did so many passing drills this year with Mitch pivoting. We say, catch, pivot, peek, make a pass. He did a great job.
"That six assists is a big number for him. He's a big target in there, as well. We can throw it to Glenn [Robinson III] as well. Their guards are so long, it's hard to see Glenn in there, but you could certainly see the big fella."
McGary still has a lot to learn, Beilein said, and he can't wait to continue working with him.
"He embraces all that," Beilein said. "That's what has made it most impressive. But the best is yet to come. He continues to practice hard. He continues to study the game. He's got, as I've said several times, a high ceiling to his overall game. By the way, his personality and leadership is terrific."
"He makes plays that a lot of us don't see out there," Hardaway said. "He saw Michael Carter‑Williams go to the basket, laid his body on the line, sacrificed himself for the team and got us another possession."
Added Beilein: "Jordan Morgan was up on the chair leading us in the end. He's on the all-defensive team. He was going to be in there at the end when we needed stops, especially when we were going into some switching patterns, things like that, much like he did in a similar slide later in the Kansas game.
So I'm really happy for him. It was fitting that he finishes it with a dunk at the end."