Jan. 4, 2009
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Michigan's basketball program has turned around so much it had a big game in early January.
And, the 23rd-ranked Wolverines responded well.
Manny Harris had 16 points and four teammates also scored in double figures in Michigan's 74-64 victory Sunday over Illinois to end the Fighting Illini's seven-game winning streak.
The Wolverines (11-3, 1-1 Big Ten) needed a win to give them a chance to stay in The Associated Press' Top 25 and to maintain momentum earned with victories over Duke and UCLA.
"I might've lied, saying there wasn't a lot of pressure to win that game," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "If you're going to end up having a good year, you're going to have to hold court against the best teams in the league and Illinois obviously is."
Michigan seems to have a shot at being one of the Big Ten's best, already surpassing last season's win total of 10 and distancing itself from the memory of losing a school-record 22 games in Beilein's debut season at the school.
"They've got a good group and he's got his system in," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "He's spreading you, playing small ball, and he puts you in a bind. He's done a nice job here."
Beilein, improved returners and some key additions have given the Wolverines a realistic shot to play in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998 and to contend for their first Big Ten title since 1986.
Weber, meanwhile, has helped the Illini regain their standing as a solid program.
Illinois (13-2, 1-1) surged to the national radar with a winning streak that included a road victory over No. 9 Purdue on Tuesday and a win against then-No. 25 Missouri on a neutral court.
The Illini had a school-record 19 losses last season after losing an average of just seven games in Weber's first four seasons with the traditionally strong program.
Weber hoped both the Illini and Wolverines have done enough to be ranked.
"We'll see what happens," he said. "You've got to earn it."
While Michigan might have made its case, Beilein wasn't interested in pleading for votes.
"We're not good enough to be in the poll," Beilein said.
In the intriguing matchup of improving teams, Illinois missed some open shots in the closing minutes and Michigan made enough free throws to turn the closely contested game into a double-digit victory
Michigan was so balanced on offense that it almost had six double-figure scorers for the first time in six years.
DeShawn Sims had 13 points and nine rebounds, Laval Lucas-Perry scored 13 points, Zack Novak had 11 points despite missing much of the second half with a cut above his left eye, Zack Gibson added 10 and Kelvin Grady finished with nine points for the Wolverines.
"This definitely isn't a two-or three-man team," said Harris, who is averaging a team-high 18.8 points. "Every night, someone different may have their night."
On Sunday, it was Gibson's turn to transform from role to go-to player.
His dunk capped a 14-2 run that gave the Wolverines a 54-48 lead midway through the half. The 6-foot-10 center sealed the victory, faking right and driving left for another dunk to give Michigan a four-point lead with 4 minutes left.
"He was amazing," Novak said.
Early and often, Illini reserve guard Alex Legion heard boos because fans hadn't forgotten that he verbally committed to play for Michigan.
"I expected it because college basketball is all about having fun," Legion said. "I'm just disappointed that we lost."
Legion scored 10 points in his fifth game since becoming eligible after transferring from Kentucky.
Reserve Calvin Brock led the Illini with 13 points and seven rebounds and Demetri McCamey had 11 points and 10 assists. Mike Davis had 10 points despite being slowed by tonsillitis.
Illinois' Trent Meacham, one of four Illini entering the game averaging 12.1 points, scored five points on 2-of-9 shooting.
Michigan allowed the Illini to make just one-third of their shots in the second half after they connected on 59 percent in the first.
"In the locker room at halftime, we had some guys talking louder and more aggressive than they have in the past and that's really key for us," Beilein said. "DeShawn Sims really showed some great leadership. He wanted to win that game and his passion was terrific."