ANN ARBOR - Manny Harris is one of what is likely a team full of Michigan basketball players who can't wait to make a statement against No. 4 UCLA tomorrow night.
And while the Wolverines' semifinal appearance in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at Madison Square Garden is indeed a chance to show off in the Big Apple and in front of a national ESPN2 audience, coach John Beilein doesn't see the test against the Bruins as a "statement game."
"It's awful early to say it's a statement game," Beilein said. "It's a game where it's a measurement, a little bit, but 'statement' has a little too much finality to it."
The Wolverines are off to a 2-0 start after easily disposing of Michigan Tech and Northeastern in the tournament's first two rounds. Harris is the Big Ten's reigning player of the week after averaging 28 points, 8.5 rebounds and five assists in those games, and DeShawn Sims is averaging 14.5 points and 9.5 boards off the bench.
UM is feeling a bit better about itself after finishing 10-22 in Beilein's first season last year, but it also knows a win against the likes of UCLA would mean much more come March than either of its first two triumphs.
And win or lose, the Wolverines will either face No. 10 Duke or Southern Illinois on Friday night.
"We all know that this is a big game, a big game to go out and make a name for the team and get your respect," Harris said. "You live for games like this and we've got the opportunity, so it's big."
The Bruins dumped Prairie View A&M and squeaked past Miami (Ohio) to advance to the classic's semifinals. UCLA, which reached its third consecutive Final Four and then lost three players to the NBA draft last year - including lottery picks Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love - are led by senior guard Darren Collison's 17.5 points per game.
The Wolverines hosted the Bruins at Crisler Arena last season and lost 69-54 in a game they led 27-24 at halftime. UM heads into tomorrow night's game confident not only because of that performance against UCLA, but also because of the in-house improvements it feels it's made in this young season.
"We're not going to New York to lose," point guard David Merritt said. "We have the mind-set that we've been preparing pretty hard to go and have a good performance."
Should Duke and the Wolverines both either win or lose their games tomorrow night, they'll meet Friday at the Garden and Dec. 6 in Ann Arbor.
And how much has Beilein dwelled on the possibility of playing the perennial power Blue Devils twice before Christmas, let alone twice in one season?
"As little as I could possibly think about it," Beilein said.42.28188 -83.74848