All season long, as one question after another has been raised about the toughness of his Michigan basketball team, Coach Bill Frieder has repeated the same speech: "If we win, great. If not, I'm not going to jump off a bridge."
But before today's game against Indiana, the Big Ten championship at stake, Frieder decided it was time to put a little pressure on his team. "I told the seniors that even though they've won 75 games, they'll be judged on this game," he said. "People will remember today."
The memory, for the seniors, for Frieder and for a record crowd of 14,128 in Crisler Arena, will be euphoric. Because today, the Wolverines finally put all their vaunted power together. They won, 80-52, taking the Hoosiers out of the game from the start.
"We are not as bad a basketball team as we looked to be today," Indiana Coach Bob Knight said. "They just made us look like a bad basketball team."
The rout brought the Wolverines their second straight Big Ten title. They finished with a 14-4 league record, 27-4 overall. Indiana, bouncing back from last year's seventh-place league finish, ended the regular season 13-5 and 21-7.
"We knew the pressure was supposed to be all on us 'cause we were the favorites," Michigan forward Richard Rellford said. "We wanted to put the pressure on them right away."
That was Knight's concern going in. He had told his team to get through the first 10 minutes, "to get settled in," and then play 30 minutes of basketball. Michigan never gave the Hoosiers that chance. From the start, they pounded the boards and slapped balls loose time and again. After 10 minutes the Wolverines led, 22-12.
From there, they just built the lead and built the lead. It was 44-25 by halftime and Indiana never so much as sliced that margin in the second half.
"If Michigan played this hard all year then this game would not have been for the title," Knight said. "They would already have won it. If they play like this in the NCAAs, they can go a long way."
What won for Michigan was sheer athletic ability. That fact is reflected in the statistics: Michigan barely shot better than Indiana -- 44 percent to 43 percent. But it took 19 more shots because of a 47-29 rebounding edge and because it caused 20 turnovers, against a team that has taken good care of the ball all season.
Michigan guard Gary Grant held Steve Alford to 15 points -- eight under his average -- and the Wolverines dominated the inside, led by center Roy Tarpley, who played possibly his best game of the season with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Indiana's center Daryl Thomas, a 16-point averager, hit the first goal of the game for his team and never scored again.
"I never thought it would be this easy, but I thought we would win," Frieder said. "I said two weeks ago when we were one game behind that we would win the league, and we did. Give these kids credit. It's tough to repeat and they did it."