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Published: Friday, 3/9/2007

Demons still haunt UM's Amaker

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

CHICAGO - If it's March, and Michigan coach Tommy Amaker is in the room, then the talk eventually makes its way to the subject of the NCAA tournament, and the fact that Amaker has yet to take his Wolverines to the showcase event in college basketball.

Yesterday was no different, and following a humdrum 49-40 win over Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten tournament, Amaker faced that familiar music again. Did that victory over the lowly Golden Gophers take any of the heat off Amaker, whose only post-season play in his five previous seasons in Ann Arbor is two trips to the NIT?

"It's not about me personally," Amaker said. "I appreciate the question, but certainly it's about our team and trying to see if we can advance within this tournament."

The Wolverines are now 21-11, but went just 8-8 in the Big Ten, and won only three games away from Crisler Arena. Amaker tried to keep things upbeat and put yesterday's win over a 9-22 Minnesota team in the best possible light.

"For us to get 21 wins and advance in our tournament right now is a very positive, good feeling for us," he said.

"I'm not sure about everything that's swirling around us and all those things, because we're focused on what's right in front of us, and I think that's been the key, to stay focused, and I'm pleased that our kids have taken that lead, as well. I thought our kids came in with great spirit."

Amaker said he hopes his team uses the experience of posting a victory in the spacious United Center as a way to get acclimated and feel comfortable for today's second round game against top-seeded and No. 1 ranked Ohio State.

"By winning our first game, it being the first game here today and hopefully getting a point of reference with the arena, the floor, the court, all the things around being in tournament play, I like the fact that we were able to do that, and certainly it's always nice if you can say that and you have a victory," Amaker said. "We were able to do that now, so we're going to see if we can use it to our advantage."

NEW THREADS: Ohio State will take the floor for today's quarterfinal round game in the Big Ten tournament wearing new uniforms from Nike that feature long, baggy shorts and tighter-fitting jerseys.

Ohio State junior guard Jamar Butler said the uniforms take fit to the extreme - both ends of the extreme. "The shirt fits really tight but it's stretchy," Butler said, "and the shorts are just really long."

ANOTHER CHANGE: Minnesota (9-22), a team that saw its head coach (Dan Monson) resign under pressure after a dreadful start, did not get a whole lot better after he was gone and ended up losing more games than it had in any previous season, dating back to 1896 when the school started fielding a team in the sport.

Jim Molinari took over on an interim basis after Monson left and went just 7-17 in his stint. He made a pitch yesterday to keep the job, despite the first round loss to Michigan, and the fact his team scored a tournament record low of just 40 points.

"That's what I would like to do, at the highest level, no doubt," Molinari said about continuing as a head coach. "I appreciate the opportunity, no doubt, and that's what I want to do."

SILVER FOX: Minnesota junior Spencer Tollackson made his case for keeping interim head coach Jim Molinari on the job, citing Molinari's wisdom.

"I think if I ever had a pencil and a piece of paper, coach Molinari would have written down more wisdom quotes, I guess you could say, than I've ever heard in my life," Tollackson said. "He's like a wizard. Don't let the gray hair fool you. He knows a lot about life."

ACCORDING TO DOYLE: After his team was knocked out of the tournament by Michigan State, Northwestern senior Tim Doyle said the Wildcats wanted to show everyone they were not just going through the motions.

"The effort was there," Doyle said, "and I think that was important because we could have bowed our heads and showed up and took our free meal and just left. But we came out and we gave all our heart, we gave all our effort."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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