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February 6, 2013

Burke-Craft battle lives up to the hype

Over a span of two seconds, college basketball fans across the country saw the quintessential magic of the ongoing Trey Burke-Aaron craft rivalry.

With less than 30 seconds remaining in the overtime period of a wildly back-and-forth contest between Michigan and Ohio State, Burke attempted to drive into the lane to add to the Wolverines' one-point lead.

Craft, regarded as one of the fiercest on-ball defenders in the country, stuck to Burke and poked the ball out, racing toward the opposite hoop for a seemingly easy lay-in. But Burke, a streak of maize, raced out from behind to poke the ball out and deny the sure bucket.

The two battled all night long - but it was Burke and the Wolverines who came out victorious, 76-74.

Twelve seconds later, Burke made the play of the night, blocking Craft's final shot attempt of the night to secure the win for good.

"Those two, you're watching two of the finest point guards in America going against each other," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Don't sleep on Craft's offensive ability, either. I'm sure Trey will remember the block more than any play Craft made.

"They give it their all every time. To play 42 minutes like that? And we were trying to get Trey to sort of back off a little bit, just so he could rest a little. That was a great battle, and they have a lot of respect for each other, too. … Every game means a lot to him. He is a warrior. He goes after it."

Burke put together his best performance against Craft to date, tallying 16 points and eight assists to just two turnovers. (Click here for the box score.)

The two grew up playing each other on the AAU circuit and have developed a quite a competitive respect for each other.

In the waning seconds of regulation with the score knotted at 72, during a dead-ball timeout, everyone in the packed Crisler Arena knew who they Wolverines would call on to take the last shot.

In a similar situation in Columbus, Burke rimmed out a three-pointer with Craft hot on his trail.

"It was funny, Craft came up to me and said, 'Doesn't this seem like déjà vu? Like we were doing this a couple weeks ago?'" Burke said. "I said, 'Yeah.' You knew they were going to put Craft on me and that I would be guarding him.

"Craft is a great defender, and I love playing against teams like this that make you work. It's a great rivalry, and hopefully we'll get a chance to see them in the Big Ten Tournament."

Burke was helped by a creative offensive strategy, which involved getting the ball out of his hands at times and setting actions for other players.

"We tried to go other ways offensively, just to make sure he didn't have the ball all the time," Beilein said. "Sometimes, you just want to get Craft the heck out of there, just so you can do some things. And Timmy and Nik had some good runs off that."

"We tried to open the court up more and create more space," added Burke. "When the ball is in my hands, Craft does a great job of not letting me use the screen. So there is an extra defender in the lane. We tried to get other guys on the team pick-and-roll action. Timmy got off, and I think that was a great adjustment by Coach Beilein."

Hardaway used the strategy to go off in the second half, hitting five straight three-pointers to keep Michigan in the game during an offensive lull.

"That was really huge," Burke said. He really carried us tonight, so I just tried to feed the hot hand. One time, I was going to shoot, and I saw him open and knew I needed to get it to him. He hit the shot. I'm glad for him. He can perform like that night in and night out.

"There's definitely satisfaction. It's Ohio State-Michigan. It's one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball - in college, period. Just to come out and grit it out all the way, it shows a lot about how this team can stay together. I'm glad that this team performed the way we did."


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