Oklahoma Ends Michigan’s Season with 73-63 Victory

By · Sunday, March 22, 2009 · 2:38 AM |  Share | 8 Comments 

Just like the theme of this entire season, Michigan gave Oklahoma everything it had and fought until the very end on Saturday. Unfortunately, the Sooners proved to be too overpowering, as Blake Griffin dominated Michigan and helped put the Wolverines in foul trouble from almost the very start of the game. Despite having Manny Harris on the bench for most of the first half because of foul trouble, Michigan not only stayed in the game, but they only trailed by a point at the half thanks to some great play by Anthony Wright. In the second half, however, more foul trouble allowed Blake Griffin to take over and dominate Michigan. The Wolverines did make a comeback to cut the lead down to 3 at one point, but OU pulled away to win 73-63 and advance to the Sweet 16.

Coming into this game, I thought it would be very similar to the matchup against UConn back in February. Michigan had to face a great center and was at a clear disadvantage against the Huskies, and that was exactly the case on Saturday as well. Obviously Blake Griffin doesn’t have Hasheem Thabeet’s height, but he is as athletic as centers get. Griffin not only is tough to defend because of his talent, but he is also great at drawing calls and forcing teams to center in on him. That was evident on Saturday, and although the score didn’t reflect it in the first half, his play was setting up the Sooners to pull away in the final 20 minutes of the game.

Manny Harris went out of the game after picking up his second foul (he undercut Blake Griffin at the hoop) at the 15:09 mark of the first half. His absence made it look like things could get ugly pretty quickly, but Michigan surprised everyone and didn’t back down, even when DeShawn Sims left the game for a good length of time after getting hit in the eye inadvertently. His injury was only a microcosm of the physical play, as Blake Griffin had already received a cut elbow and bloody nose.

When Michigan lost its top two scorers, an unlikely hero stepped up and kept the Wolverines in this game. Anthony Wright, who began the season in the starting lineup and had seen very limited playing time since the Maryland game, made a long two-pointer and 3 three-pointers in a seven-minute or so span to put Michigan on top for a few minutes. Oklahoma regained the lead, but Wright knocked down a free throw to make it a 1-point game at halftime.

Oklahoma came out to start the second half on another level. Blake Griffin was having little trouble scoring, and Michigan couldn’t hit a shot. Manny Harris looked rusty, probably because he hadn’t played in 63 or so real time minutes. He wasn’t the only one, though. The entire team was having shooting issues, allowing Oklahoma to jump out to an 11-point lead only six minutes into the half.

Michigan managed to stop the bleeding, so to speak, and Oklahoma’s lead remained around 10 or so points until it jumped to 13 with 9:23 left in the game. Oklahoma was on the verge of running away with this game, but C.J. Lee nailed a pair of threes to lead a Michigan comeback. Anthony Wright scored on a put back layup in between Lee’s threes and then made a steal to set up a DeShawn Sims layup. Sims’ basket made this a 3-point game and left fans stunned at what had just happened. Oklahoma went from leading by 13 to leading by 3 in about three minutes, setting up what looked like it would be a dramatic finish.

Rather than lose its composure, though, the Sooners stayed calm and stopped Michigan’s run right after Sims’ layup. The key was that Oklahoma fed the ball to Blake Griffin. During Michigan’s run, the Sooners missed 3 three-pointers and turned the ball over once. Griffin didn’t take a single shot, which is mainly why OU didn’t score. After Willie Warren made a two-pointer to stop Michigan’s run, Blake Griffin got the ball on three straight possessions. Two of them ended with Griffin laying the ball in, and the other resulted in 2 points from the free throw line.

While Griffin was carrying OU to victory, Michigan was struggling to just hang on to the ball. You could see Michigan start to panic once the shots stopped falling, and generally a possession at this point in the game ended with a bad three-pointer or a turnover. To make matters worse, both C.J. Lee and Manny Harris fouled out, leaving a great leader and Michigan’s best player confined to the bench for the final few minutes of the game. This allowed Oklahoma to once again increase its lead to double figures when Austin Johnson delivered a knock out three-pointer with 1:36 left in the game. The lead was 12 after Johnson’s three-pointer, and Michigan’s hopes of a run to the Sweet 16 were over. The final score ended up being 73-63 after the final minute produced 3 made OU free throws, a Stu Douglass three, and a DeShawn Sims three-point play.

Although it was disappointing for the game to turn out how it did after Michigan made such a great run in the second half, the fact that they were so close to making it to the Sweet 16 is pretty amazing. The progress made this season shows just how great of a coach John Beilein is and how bright the future is for this program. Back in November, I never would have expected Michigan to, at one time, be leading Oklahoma in a second round NCAA tournament game. I already expressed my surprise at how well this season went in the Clemson recap, so I won’t summarize all of that again.

I do want to say how proud I am of John Beilein and all of the players, coaches, and other people involved with this program, especially C.J. Lee, David Merritt, and Jevohn Shepherd, the three seniors on this team that have played their final game for Michigan. Who could have guessed that someone like Lee, who was a walk-on at one time in his career, would play such an integral part of this team’s success and run to the second round of the NCAA tournament? The same goes for Merritt, who was also once a walk-on.

It will hurt to lose the leadership of Lee and Merritt, who were the team’s captains this season. Here’s to hoping we see them around the team in the future, preferably on the sidelines. Lee was already like a coach during games, and Merritt was like one in the locker room delivering the pre-game speeches. As for Shepherd, it seems like he has the athleticism to play basketball in the future, so maybe he could end up in the NBDL or something like that.

It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season, but I’m going to wait to do that until a later time. Right now we should look back on the best season of Michigan basketball in a very long time and be thankful for the great things this team did. It was a fun ride, and although I wish it was continuing in Memphis next weekend, a big congratulations goes out to the entire program for a job well done. Here’s to John Beilein and everyone involved with the team for a great season.

Go Blue!

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I am surprised that you never mentioned the officiating, or lack thereof. I give credit to B. Griffin and Okla. for playing a good game but Michigan got raped from start to finish by the refs. You mentioned Harris undercut Griffin on an offensive rebound. Manny didnt do anything! He was standing there Griffin goes up for the ball and comes down on top of Manny, Fresh gets called on a foul that he never committed. C.J. Lee got called on a foul after scraping with Griffin for a loose ball. Again Lee did nothing to warrant a call. The game was physical and in a situation of extreme importance Lee throws his body at a loose ball. The refs decide that he wasnt going for the ball and instead has purposely cut out Griffins legs. Bullshit! I can think of at least 3 more bad calls but I hope ive made my point. Michigan played well for the most part and Griffin is a damn good player but this loss will taste sour to me for awhile

  2. Anonymous says:

    I will mention one more bad call. A foul called on Peedi midway through the second half. He put on a clinic boxing out Griffin under the basket! Any coach could use that tape as an example of a perfect box-out yet Sims gets the whistle for pushing or some stupid ass foul! I cant believe it! Whats funny is that shortly after that foul Anthony Wright was under the basket with Griffin and in the replay they showed you could see Wright clearly reach his arm around Griffin and push him. The ref was looking right at him yet swallowed his whistle!

  3. Anonymous says:

    As an objective viewer, I thought the game was called pretty well. Blake Griffin in college is like Shaq in the NBA, except Blake has size AND athleticism. You have to look at it from an officials standpoint with him, it really is tough to call a foul on Blake Griffin when he jumps to get a rebound and Harris or Sims just box his legs out and they both end up on the ground.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I will not put this one on the refs…but some of those calls were b.s. Griffin was much bigger and stronger than anyone UM had. On those rebounds, it was clear a couple of times that the UM player had position, that is why Griffin ended up falling on the back of players he was being boxed out by. If anything, Griffin should have been called for over the back. A player has a right to keep his position, when a smaller player is boxing out a player that is a lot bigger and stronger than they are, there is a good chance the bigger player could be under cut when they go up for the rebound. But this is not a foul. You can’t punish the smaller player for properly boxing out.

    BUT…with all that being said, Oklahoma was the better team and they deserved to win the game. No doubt about that. Nice year though, it was a fun weekend having the UM B-Ball team back in the show.

  5. GregGoBlue says:

    Excellent recap! The best I’ve read so far. It is easy to see why Blake Griffin was a consensus first team all american, most likely will win the Naismith and the national player of the year and be the first pick in the NBA draft this summer. He was simply unstoppable.

    Kudos to Blue for fighting hard all game, and all season for that matter. We’re back.

  6. Big Blue says:

    Stop blaming the officials, they had NOTHING to do with us losing. I think it had more to do with OU being the better team. Seriously, some of you are making our entire fanbase look like a bunch of crybabies.

    Instead of whining, let’s enjoy what we accomplished this year and what we have to look forward to next year!

  7. Chris in NC says:

    Exactly Big Blue. We did get screwed at times, but let’s face it, Griffin was just too much and Oklahoma had way too much talent for us this time.

    Rather than focus on the bad, let’s focus on the fact that no one in heck thought we would be there. Most thought .500 season maybe NIT maybe not. 11 points from the sweet 16? Yeah, I think I’ll take that. It has been said before, but it bears repeating over and over. This team showed so much heart, guts and fight. They never quit. They always gave 100%. Even when the 100% wasn’t falling or doing it, they never quit trying. Coach Beilein took the talent we had and maxed it out. He made the players better and the team better and the future is bright as the sun!

    I’m stuck in ACC country (2-0 against them! How sweet is that for the B10). I wish I could be at the campus for when the team arrives. Here’s hoping they have a huge crowd to thank them!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Big Blue,
    what is the problem? I don’t see anyone blaming the refs. I just see a few post’s that question some of the calls, I think most have made it clear that Oklahoma was the better team.

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