Final Four: Michican 61, Syracuse 56: Wolverines solve tough zone defense of Syracuse

2013-04-07T00:00:00Z Final Four: Michican 61, Syracuse 56: Wolverines solve tough zone defense of SyracuseThe Associated Press The Associated Press
April 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

ATLANTA - Don't call these guys the Fab Five.

Michigan's latest group of young stars is determined to leave its own legacy.

Attacking Syracuse's suffocating zone defense in the first half with three-pointers, crisp passing and a fearless attitude, the Wolverines advanced to the national championship game with a 61-56 victory over the Orange in the Final Four on Saturday night.

Michigan (31-7) will be going for its first national title since 1989 when it faces Louisville on Monday at the Georgia Dome. Syracuse (30-10) failed to complete an all-Big East final in the fabled league's last season before breaking up.

Louisville was established as a 4 1/2-point favorite.

Don't expect that to bother the brash young Wolverines.

The Wolverines got sloppy in the second half and had to hang on at the end, winning despite a tough night for Trey Burke, the AP Player of the Year and Wooden Award winner. He scored only seven points.

That made for some nervous moments as Michigan got a little too conservative trying to run out the clock.

Trailing 58-56, the Orange had a chance to force overtime. But Brandon Triche was called for a foul when Jordan Morgan stepped in to take the charge with 19.2 seconds left.

"Jordan is our best charge-taker," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He stood in there and took a good one."

After Jon Horford made only one of two free throws, Syracuse called timeout and set up a play. Curiously, the Orange didn't attempt a tying three-pointer. Instead, Trevor Cooney drove the lane looking to put up an easier shot. But the ball was swatted away, Michigan saved it from going out of bounds, and Morgan wound up taking a long pass the other way.

He threw down a thunderous slam with just over a second remaining to cap the triumph.

Triche blamed himself for driving the ball recklessly into the lane when Syracuse had a chance to tie it.

"I was just trying to make a play for the team," he said. "I probably should have made a better decision, probably should have pulled up for the jump shot. … I did see him, but I figured, I was already in the air jumping."

With Burke struggling (he made only one shot from the field all night), Michigan got an unexpected contribution from freshmen Caris LeVert and Spike Albrecht.

LeVert scored eight points, and Albrecht added six - all of them crucial after the Wolverines went cold in the second half and struggled to put away the Orange. Tim Hardaway Jr. led the Wolverines with 13 points.

"We had a lot of guys in there," Beilein said. "You never know who the outlier is, you never know who's going to come in and get that done. We've been a team all year. It was great."

Of course, there's nothing unusual about Michigan getting big performances from first-year players. This team starts three freshmen - Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas - which, of course, rekindled memories of the great Fab Five teams of the early 1990s.

These kids want nothing to do with the comparisons, saying they haven't done nearly enough to be mentioned in the same breath with a team that changed the face of college basketball.

Well, if the Wolverines can win their next game, they'll accomplish something that eluded the Fab Five: a national title.

Syracuse was looking to give 68-year-old Jim Boeheim another title, a decade after the Orange won it all in their last trip to the Final Four. Boeheim has no plans to retire, but his quest for a championship is on hold for another year.

"I told you I'm not going to answer that question unless you ask that of every coach," Boeheim snapped at a reporter when asked about his future. "I never indicated at any time that I'm not coming back."

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