Tommy Amaker has a very clear vision of the way he wants his team to play in 2006. He has made no secret of the fact that he would like his club to play more of an up-tempo style offensively. One thing he has stressed even more than that, though, is his desire to see his club be a much strong defensive team this season. Sunday against the Michigan Tech Huskies, the Wolverines closed out exhibition season with just the type of defensive performance he hopes to see more of this year. The Maize and Blue held Tech to just 20 first half points, and 50 for the game on 19/50 shooting.
The Wolverines had already sprinted out to a 10-2 lead by the first Media timeout at the 15:19 mark, thanks to three assists from point guard Jerret Smith. The home team went on to blow the game open, pushing the first half lead to as many as 26 points (43-17), by outscoring the Huskies 33-15 down the stretch.
"We have really worked hard to become a good team defensively," said Amaker. "We are basing our identity on the defensive end and I think you can see the effort our kids have put forth in both games so far. We have had two different styles of opponent with a little bit smaller of a team in Wayne State and larger team this afternoon. I was really pleased with the effort that we gave on the defensive end as a group. I think the kids really enjoyed that because it leads to fun things in transition."
Another pleasing aspect of Sunday's game for Amaker was the inside play of Courtney Sims and Ekpe Udoh. Udoh set the tone early on by muscling in eight first half points. The freshman showed his versatility by scoring from the perimeter and in the paint. His senior cohort then took over in the second half, pouring in 14 points in the latter stanza to finish with a game high 21 points. After registering just five points and two rebounds in 16 minutes of play versus Wayne State on Thursday, the Boston native was looking to get back on track. Sunday's effort was more in line with what he and his team expect from him during the season.
"Thursday was kind of an awkward game because all the players were guards," Sims said regarding the opening exhibition contest versus Wayne State. "I didn't really fit in with the game. It's not a traditional team. I didn't get much playing time on Thursday and my guards were really looking for me today because they want me to get off to a good start – they helped me out."
As was the case after the Maize and Blue's blowout victory of Wayne State, Tommy Amaker still found areas of improvement for his squad to focus on despite the lopsided 85-50 outcome.
"(The number of turnovers and sub par free throw shooting) was below our standards, but a big improvement from our last game," Amaker said. "We wanted to have some improvement and we did that. I'd like to see it even better. I thought was had some silly, sloppy turnovers. Sometimes you get that in a game that is a little more high octane and you live with a few, but there were a couple that I was pretty disappointed in."
Michigan will resume play Friday evening when they kick off the regular season in the John Thompson Challenge. The Wolverines will play three games in three days, starting with Central Connecticut State (Friday at 8 PM), then against Davidson Saturday at 4 PM and will close the tournament out with Eastern Michigan Sunday at 4 PM.
-Brent Petway did not play in the contest due to a stomach illness.
-Deshawn Sims played in Sunday's contest with a heavy heart. Early Friday evening Sims brother Marcus Sims (16) was shot in the head and killed as he and two 18-year old friends walked in an alley way. One of the eighteen year olds was shot in the leg, while the other escaped without injury.
The tragic loss has shaken Sims and his family to their core, but they found a brief refuge on the basketball court Sunday. With his entire family in attendance, Sims made the tough decision to go ahead and play the game to try and take his mind off the obvious pain that comes with losing someone of such significance.
"I try not to let it bother me right now," Sims said. "Once I get off the court, that's when everything starts to hit me. When I'm playing it doesn't really bother me, so that's how I try to take my emotions away."
GoBlueWolverine will have more on this tragic story in the coming days and will provide details on funeral arrangements for those wishing to send condolences when that information becomes available.