Friday, March 17, 2006

And Then, A Faint Pulse Began To Register

We strained to hear it, but it bore promise

Michigan 82 UTEP 67

The life support meter registered something positive yesterday. Michigan emerged from its self-induced coma to throttle an over matched UTEP squad yesterday at Crisler.

A healthy Chris Hunter is a good Chris Hunter. His 20 point night in Michigan's romp over UTEP only served to underscore the void he will leave next year. This is not to say Hunter's All-American or even Second Team All-Intramurals. But he serviceable and competent in the post. As a starter he was our fireplug. Off the bench he shook the team from its doldrums when wasn't disabled. His absence next year will definitely be noticed. Hopefully Courtney was taking notes last night.

For the first time in three games the Wolverines got their act together. The team committed only 13 turnovers and dished out 23 assists. Let me say that again. 23 assists. Finally looking healthy, Dion Harris went 5 for 9 from the floor including 4 of 5 from three. Perhaps his hot hand carried over to his ball handling as he had only two turnovers for the whole game. I'm sure it was a relief to Daniel Horton not to have to carry the team by himself for once. He settled in nicely with 14 points, 9 assists, and one (1) turnover. Hell, even Jarrett Smith played well, offering up 6 assists and draining a three for the first time in... well... when were the Olympics held in Calgary? And Brent Petway continued his efforts to prove you can score every point of your career by monstrous dunk, he added 10 points.

Michigan raced out to a 20-9 lead early in the game and did something they haven't been able to do in months. They held the lead. For once a 14-4 run didn't sap all the energy they had. Instead of letting a down team back into the game as they usually do, Michigan put the Miners away. At half time Michigan was up 10, and the game was pretty well in hand. From half time on it was over. Michigan was up 20 with six minutes to go, and Amaker put in the scrubs.

Yea. Its a win. We didn't give up a big lead in the first or second halves. Yes its UTEP. Yes they suck. But they were in the NIT with us, so they were doing something quasi-correct. So this was a semi-quality win against a would-be bottom tier Big Ten team (i.e., northwestern or Purdue. Feel free to dispute that, but neither of them are still playing.). Michigan put away an inferior opponent with a gusto that's been missing in recent games. A lot of it can be attributed to the overall health of the team. However, I'll turn a cynical eye and offer that its because the pressure's off.

This team played loose and fast. Petway took up residence somewhere above the shot clock and attempted to dismantle the backboard every chance he got just for fun. Harris was finally healthy enough to get some lift off for his jumper, but he also didn't have to be the "other guy" who was responsible for getting Michigan in the NCAA's anymore. Horton was finding open shooters rather than charging down the lane, aimlessly throwing ill-advised passes to waiting defenders. No. This was a different team. This was a fun team. This was a team that could take or leave this tournament. This was a team free from expectations.

The season ended for these guys on selection Sunday. They know it. And they're happy to play on borrowed time.

Good for them. Enjoy it. Make us enjoy it. Make us cheer with every alley-oop and trey. Make us forget the season of lost promise for a few more games. Make us believe once more that there is a pulse, however faint, pumping away in the body that is Michigan Basketball.

More on the rest of the NIT after lunch....

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