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January 11, 2009

Michigan finding its identity under Beilein

Head coach John Beilein had seen enough with 1:58 remaining in Sunday's game with Iowa, calling a 30-second timeout after his team allowed 11 straight points.

Box Score

On the bright side, he finally had some film from which to teach before tomorrow's practice.

U-M still led by 17 after racing to a 16-point halftime lead, and was up as many as 28 in a 64-49 win over the Hawkeyes. At one point the Wolverines might have had more floor burns than Iowa points, diving for loose balls and steals that led to transition points and good looks.

A sequence with 10 minutes to go summed up the energy on the floor, senior guards and captains C.J. Lee and David Merritt laying out on the defensive end to start the break, Lee diving for another on the offense end that led to two Laval Lucas-Perry free throws. The play earned the Wolverines a 52-29 lead and a standing ovation from the home crowd, which included members of the 1973-74 Big Ten championship team that was honored at halftime.

"I told the team if we're smart, that should be our identity," said Beilein. "That's who we should be, this team that is all-out hustle all the time. We had the '74 team in there, and that's huge for them. Two of them came up there and said, 'that's the way we want you to play' … Steve Grote and all those guys would have done the same thing."

The energy was evident early despite the 11:30 a.m. start, as was the realization that Iowa - playing without forward Cyrus Tate (ankle injury) - was going to have trouble solving Michigan's 1-3-1 zone defense. The Hawkeyes never found a rhythm, trailed 32-16 at the half in shooting 27.3 percent to U-M's 52 and finished with 18 turnovers.

Many of U-M's 16 points off turnovers came in transition, key against an Iowa team that doesn't give up many points.

"I was really proud of the way we played defense," said Beilein. "We defended well enough that we could actually get into some transition baskets. You're not going to score a lot on them in a half court offense … they're just too solid. That's uncharacteristic, the 18 turnovers. We were able to take advantage of that."

The same team that launched 40 threes in a win at Indiana played with more patience Sunday, scoring inside and out. Sims took advantage of Tate's absence to score 16 points, all on two-point shots, many in the paint. Sophomore Manny Harris drove inside for many of his 18, while guards Lucas-Perry and Kelvin Grady added eight apiece.

U-M's solid, first half shooting allowed the Wolverines to remain in their 1-3-1 for long stretches.

"They're trusting their teammates. They know this guy is going to be open, and our execution is getting better," said Beilein. "Every time someone plays us, someone does something different. They did a couple things differently and we keep adjusting, keep adjusting, hoping we can make shots.

"I thought we had good balance inside and outside. The dream program for us is to always have that inside-outside presence, but if you don't have an inside or outside game, you can't do it. We were happy how [Sims] played. He was very aggressive."

And a big reason the Wolverines improved to 13-3 overall (matching some preseason pundits' expected season win total), 3-1 in Big Ten play.

But now's not the point in the season to develop big heads, Beilein noted. If anything, it's time to remember how few expected them to be in this position. That's been the fuel behind their success, and it looks as though there's still plenty in the tank.

"Whenever any of my teams had success, that was my biggest worry … that that chip [on its shoulder] would disappear," said Beilein. "It's really important. We've got a couple high profile players out there, but a lot of guys the Big Ten didn't recruit. They should be playing with a chip every day … those are the teams we like to play, and it's a great mix we have out there for team chemistry."

Notes

• Beilein put his team through a long practice yesterday to send a message.

"Yesterday we went 1:55 a day before a game, hard," he said. "They think as long as we're going to be here and he's going to stay on our butts, we might as well do it right. It's not any fun running sprints or whatever because we don't do it right."

• Iowa missed Tate on the interior, especially his rebounding presence.

"He's a big player in their program. He gets hurt with two days prep time, that's very difficult for any coach to adjust to," said Beilein. "We don't get that lead we get when Cyrus is in there… but you have to take advantage of those opportunities when you get them."

The Wolverines grabbed 31 rebounds to Iowa's 29, including 11 on the offensive end.

Quotable

Beilein on the 11:30 a.m. start: "I had a big bowl of oatmeal about 7:30, so I'm hungry."

And on winning two games this week that most expected they would on paper: "You take the paper … we're pleased we got wins, no matter who they are over. We'll worry about who we beat if we're fortunate enough to be hanging around in March. Then we'll worry about who we beat."



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