Michigan looks like old self, keeps slim Big Ten hopes alive with 71-58 win over Illinois
The shot went in, and Burke went nuts.
The Wolverines had gone up 12, the Crisler Center exploded, Burke was all smiles, the entire bench was, too.
For the first time in a month, the Wolverines were having fun again -- a revelation that could be bad news for everyone else on Michigan's remaining schedule.
"This week, we did a good job of just having fun," said Burke, who put up 26 points and 8 assists during No. 7 Michigan's 71-58 win over Illinois. "Coach showed us some old clips of us from the beginning of the year, before all the crazy hype and stuff, and we saw how much fun we were having out on the court.
"Us realizing that we need to continue to have fun out there -- that allowed us to play the way we played in the second half."
How Michigan played in the second half Sunday was reminiscent of the team that bolted out to a 20-1 start earlier this season. A team that flew down the court in transition, played above the rim and wasn't afraid to take a shot when the time called for it.
It looked like the team that defended with intensity on the perimeter, and immediately made teams pay for turning the ball over.
A team that didn't care about hype or where it was ranked or who it was being compared to.
Michigan, for the first time in a while, looked like Michigan again.
"As a young team, even if you try not to allow (hype) to change you, sometimes it may," Burke admitted. "There's so much stuff going on around the facilities and at practice, and you lose focus sometimes.
"I don't know if we lost focus, but (immense hype) was a distraction that allowed us to kind of take our eye off the goal. But I think, I know, we're back on track."
After looking more like the team still searching for its lost identity during the first 20 minutes Sunday, the Wolverines decimated Illinois after the break.
Michigan went 13 of 24 after halftime, out-rebounded Illinois 17-10, scored 16 points off turnovers and ran every single chance it got.
Illinois scored 13 points off second-chance opportunities in the first half, but thanks to a re-energized effort from Jordan Morgan inside, the Illini never had another offensive rebound after the break.
This was the formula Michigan used to demolish the first two-thirds of its schedule, and one it hopes to redevelop heading down the stretch.
"(The 2-3 stretch earlier this month) was tough, because it took some of our confidence away," said Morgan, who came off the bench to grab six rebounds and two assists in 17 minutes. "And we still won some games, but we struggled.
"I felt like today was the first step in getting our confidence back. Getting our swagger back."
Whether Michigan can maintain the same level of "swagger" and intensity over the final four regular season games remain to be seen.
But with four left before the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines still have a chance -- albeit very slim -- at grabbing a share of the regular season crown.
Michigan (23-4, 10-4) is still two games back of first-place Indiana. And though the Wolverines need someone (Minnesota, Iowa or Ohio State) to knock off the Hoosiers, Michigan still gets one more crack at the nation's No. 1 team -- on the final day of the regular season (March 10) at the Crisler Center.
The Wolverines are still far from perfect. Nik Stauskas went 0 of 5 from the floor, Illinois still had far too many easy buckets in the first half and Tim Hardaway Jr. was only 1 of 4 from downtown.
But, at least they found some confidence.
And right now, that's more important than anything else.
"There's a bounce in our step right now," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "As hard as they've practiced, they needed that success, because it does pay off.
"The bounce was incredible. Guys were out in passing lanes, guys were closing out -- they forgot about that. ... It's still a matter of hustle, of talk, of communicating and a whole lot of toughness."
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