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Robinson is Leading the Pack
To most observers, the story of Michigan's tournament opening win versus Iowa was the performance of freshman Dion Harris. His and Lester Abram's offensive production was certainly a huge key in the hard fought victory. However, there was another performance in that game that can't be overlooked. Though Bernard Robinson Jr. had 9 points on only 2/8 shooting, he controlled the floor in all other areas of the game. He filled up the stat sheet with 10 assists and 6 rebounds and the Hawkeyes had no answer for his ability to go end to end on missed shots. Many of Michigan's three-pointers came in transition thanks to Bernard breaking down the defense and finding the open man. He was the assist man on both of Lester Abram's triples, Daniel Horton's lone shot from deep, and half of Dion Harris' SIX. The senior made it clear that his individual scoring numbers weren't as important as the team's overall success. " Dion and Lester were on fire and the key thing about being good basketball teams is you have to find the people that are hot at the right times," Robinson said. "We did that today and that was big."
It was obvious that the senior wing's experience helped calm his team. His composure in lieu of Iowa's opening run was a huge factor in keeping the rest of the team mentally in the game. "We definitely weren't nervous," he said regarding his team's reaction to the Hawkeyes' opening onslaught. "There are times when we've had to come together as a group to stop runs and that was one of those times." The catalyst that brought the team together was Robinson. Whether it meant getting in the faces of his teammates at certain times, or instructing them at others, he did what was necessary.
Robinson continued to be a steadying presence for the team when Iowa started to eat into the Michigan's big lead. Having been through the wars and experiencing the let downs his team had earlier in the year, the DC native understood what it would take to hold onto the victory. "We had to make sure we stayed focused," he said. "I think a lot of times when you get big leads you lose focus easily, so is\t was key for us to talk about everything as much as possible. We had to demand a lot of things from each other in order to come out with a victory. We knew that they had one more run in them and we just had to survive it. I think we did a good job of that."
Coach Amaker knew how important Bernard would be in the tourney. On Tuesday the coach talked about the value of having him as a senior leader. "You need veterans and you need experience," Amaker said. "Bernard has that for our team. It’s going to be critical for him to display that and lead the way when it comes to that in this tournament. Bernard’s leadership and his being a veteran ball player is going to have to pay dividends for us if we’re going to be successful this weekend."
Wolverines Feel Up to the Challenge vs Illinois
A win tomorrow versus the Illini would almost assure the Wolverines a spot in the NCAA tournament. However, beating a team that has won 11 straight is no small task. "We recognize how good of a team they are," Amaker said. "I think that they have been one of the hottest teams in the country. The game we played against them in Champaign was a very tough game. Being the regular-season conference champs, we know they want to make a sweep of it and win the tournament. Both teams are coming in with a game under their belt and we'll have to see what happens."
Michigan played Illinois very well for a half down in Champaign, but they crumbled coming out of the locker room. The most glaring difference in the second stanza was Michigan's miserable 3-point shooting (0/7 in the second half). Upon closer inspection, however, the Wolverines' failure to continue to pound the ball inside had a great deal to do with their lack of long range efficiency (and ultimately the loss). Despite the success from behind the arc versus Iowa, Robinson indicated that 3-point accuracy can be fleeting. The key to the game lies in the paint according to Michigan's elder-statesman. "If we going to beat a team that's playing as well as anyone in the country , I think it's key that we get the ball down low a little more and get the inside game going," Robinson said. We have to work on playing from the inside out for the next game. We have to exploit their big men and get our big men some touches. That will open things up for us on the outside."
Illinois junior Luther Head punished Michigan in the last contest, hitting 18 points and going 5-8 from three point range. The Chicago native had a huge game in the Illini's win tournament opening win over Indiana as well. He hit a career high 29 points (10 over his previous career high). The 3-pointer was again a huge part of his game, as he was 4/6 from long range. The Wolverines will have to do a much better job of finding him on the perimeter in tomorrow's contest. In spite of Head's individual success and the collective success of his team, the Michigan players remain un-intimidated. "I think we feel pretty confident as a team, and we match up with them well," said Lester Abram. It's going to be a good game and we're not going to back down. We came here with the mindset that we're going to win this tournament. Tomorrow is a big test for us."