Two minutes and eight seconds into today's match-up with the Northern Illinois Huskies, Michigan head basketball coach Tommy Amaker sent a very clear message to his team; he wanted more passion on the floor! The visitors opened the contest by scoring the first four points, and despite his team managing to get on the board courtesy of a Dion Harris bucket, Amaker pulled his entire starting five in favor of a unit of reserves.
"We really felt that we wanted to gauge our players -- their energy level," Amaker explained. "I've always known that this is a tough time of the year with the exams and all the things that they're dealing with. But we certainly felt that we didn't have the zip or pop in us right away. I was concerned, but I was happy to see that our second unit came in there and really gave us a shot in the arm. We got the crowd going and the energy level up. We did a nice job with instilling in us the passion of getting out on that floor and playing defense, and playing with a lot of spirit."
The five-player group of Jerret Smith, Deshawn Sims, Reed Baker, Jevohn Shepherd, and Ekpe Udoh outscored NIU 11-4 over the next five minutes and held a 13-8 lead when the starters re-entered the game at the 12:35 mark.
Lester Abram answered his coach's call and immediately began to attack the basket, scoring four straight Wolverine points. Minutes later, Courtney Sims got into the act by converting a lay-up on his way to scoring seven points down the stretch. That sparked a 12-6 run, during which Sims and fellow senior Brent Petway converted back to back slams to help send the Wolverines into the break with a 33-23 lead.
The Huskies opened the second half much like they did the first, scoring the first four points of the stanza. This time, however, Amaker didn't have to look to his bench for a spark. Lester Abram again displayed his aggressiveness, driving to the hole on consecutive possessions to score the Wolverines first two buckets after the intermission. That initiated a 14-2 run that put the Wolverines up 47-29 with 12:36 to go. Thanks in part to 12 second-half points from Courtney Sims, the Wolverines never looked back as they went on to win the contest 67-52.
Michigan was led on the afternoon by Courtney Sims' 21 points and 13 rebounds. Abram, meanwhile, chipped in with a season-high 14.
"I saw open lanes and I was just attacking the basket," said Abram. "I was playing closer to the basket; that was the main goal. When I was running the floor I also got some easy looks. That was pretty much it."
Though obviously pleased with the way his team rebounded from its early struggles, Amaker still identified a few areas of concern as the Wolverines prepare to face a couple of high caliber opponents.
"I thought we dug in a little bit more in the second half and really wanted to defend," Michigan's sixth year headman said. They were tough for us to guard with that swing offense, flex cuts and things that they were able to run. But certainly we did some really good things -- we got on the glass. We didn't finish as well as we wanted -- we probably could have had some more points. And again, we're still struggling shooting the ball from the foul line. I know we didn't shoot particularly well from the three either, but I'm more concerned now as we continue to go further on. With some close games, we're going to be able to have to win somehow, and usually foul shooting is going to be the difference, and we're still struggling in that area."
Next up for the Wolverines is a stiff road test next Saturday against the #1 ranked UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 PM EST and will be nationally televised on CBS.