Michigan beats Illinois, looks for top ranking
Wolverines haven't had No. 1 ranking since 1992-93
Michigan wasn't sure exactly what defensive challenges Illinois would present Sunday, but it didn't take too long to adjust.
The Wolverines used an 11-0 first-half run to pull ahead of the Illini, and they never trailed again on their way to a 74-60 victory. Four Michigan players scored in double figures in front of a sold-out Assembly Hall crowd.
"We anticipated a lot of things they could do, and in a two-day prep, we were trying to get ready for so many things," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "That took some time to adjust."
The Wolverines (19-1, 6-1) claimed a share of the Big Ten lead with Indiana. Michigan likely will become the nation's top-ranked team on Monday following No. 1 Duke's midweek loss to Miami. The program hasn't been on top of the national ratings since 1992-93, the second of consecutive years when the Fab Five led the Wolverines to the national title game.
However, Beilein said rankings don't matter.
"To our team, it doesn't make a big difference," he said. "Our big thing is let's get better every day ... and focus on winning the Big Ten championship."
Guard Trey Burke led a balanced Michigan attack with 19 points. Nik Stauskas had 14 points, while Glen Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. each collected 12.
Brandon Paul was one of three players in double figures for Illinois (15-6, 2-5), which has dropped four of its past five and five of seven in the new year. Paul scored 15 points, D.J. Richardson had 12 and Tracy Abrams added 10. Center Nnanna Egwu had six points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
Michigan's victory was its third straight since a Jan. 13 loss at Ohio State.
"If we want a chance to beat them, we've got to play better than we did today," Illinois coach John Groce said. "It's disconcerting when they shot 53 percent from the field, but I look at it that one of the things I wanted to do was guard the 3-point line. We did a pretty good job of that."
Michigan hit just five of 15 3-point attempts.
The Wolverines scored the game's first 11 points and held a 15-7 lead at the 11:38 mark. Three-pointers from Paul and Abrams and an Egwu put-back helped the Illini get within 17-15.
However, Illinois could never overtake the visitors, who had a 10-5 run in the final 3:43 of the half behind 3-pointers Burke and Hardaway. Michigan led 35-27 at the break.
The Wolverines briefly opened a double-digit lead when Robinson's jumper gave them a 39-29 advantage. Abrams had five points as Illinois cut the margin to 41-37 with 16:33 showing.
But Michigan replied with nine straight points, including buckets by Max Bielfeldt and Burke off turnovers, and the Wolverines took a 50-37 lead with 14:28 showing.
Illinois never again got closer than seven, at 55-48 with 9:13 remaining. Michigan patiently extended the lead to as many as 18 points.
"We cut it to a two-possession game, maybe three at two different times late," Groce said. "We had a couple of live-ball turnovers that you can't guard and defend. You can't guard one on nothing ... and that pushed it back up."
Illinois shot just 23-for-62 from the field (37.1 percent) and hit just six of 26 attempts (23.1 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc. The Illini outrebounded the Wolverines 36-35.
"We tried to do whatever we can to make a run, but we broke down a few times on defense and they exposed us," Illini guard D.J. Richardson said.
Wolverines starting forward Jordan Morgan suffered a sprained ankle in the first half and did not return. His status for later this week was not immediately known.
NOTES: Michigan's Hardaway entered the game as reigning Big Ten player of the week. He scored 21 points in a road win over Minnesota 10 days ago. This week, he had 13 in the Wolverines' 68-53 home win over Purdue. ... The Illini retired Govoner Vaughn's No 35 in a pregame ceremony, raising a banner with his name to the Assembly Hall ceiling. Vaughn was Illinois' first African-American letter winner during the 1957-58 season and team MVP in 1960. He finished as the program's third all-time leading scorer with 1,001 points. ... The game was the first meeting between Groce and Michigan since Groce became Illinois' coach, but Groce is no stranger to the Wolverines. His Ohio University team beat the Wolverines 65-60 in a second-round NCAA clash last year in Nashville ... Michigan sixth man Mitch McGary had notched 20-plus minutes in four of his previous six games and scored a career-high 21 points Thursday against Purdue. He played 16 minutes Sunday and scored six points... The Illini snapped a three-game losing streak Tuesday with a 71-51 triumph at Nebraska ... Illinois opened a stretch in which four of five games will be against nationally ranked foes. The Illini will be at No. 13 Michigan State on Thursday. Michigan hosts Northwestern on Wednesday.
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