Team effort helps Wolverines win South region

A basketball player in the zone can win a game.

An entire team in the zone? That has Michigan in its first Final Four since the Fab Five were the biggest thing in the land.

Instead of needing a Trey Burke miracle like they did against Kansas, the Wolverines blew favored Florida off the floor, booking a place in Atlanta with an easy 79-59 victory in the South region final.

“I’m a little bit speechless right now,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “To see this group of kids come together and do what they did today, I don’t really know what to say.”

This wasn’t the same team that finished the final 12 regular-season games at 6-6, costing them a Big Ten championship and dropping them from a No. 1 seed to a No. 4 in the NCAA tournament.

That team blew the final game of the season, allowing Indiana to escape with an undisputed conference title. This team is going to be playing in April, even as the Hoosiers make their offseason plans.

“Indiana can’t talk trash about us now,” yelled Tim Hardaway Jr. during the postgame celebration.

For three rounds, Burke and Mitch McGary had carried the Wolverines, but this was something else.

It was Nik Stauskas ending a two-month shooting drought by hitting 3-pointer after 3-pointer from the left baseline. He hit all six he attempted and matched a career best with 22 points.

It was Glenn Robinson III stepping up on defense against 6-foot-10 Florida star Erik Murphy, who went 0 for 11 from the floor.

It was Spike Albrecht coming off the bench for seven points and three steals.

It was Hardway struggling with his shot — he went 3-for-13 — but dishing out five assists.

It was Caris LeVert with a spectacular block and Michigan’s five seniors on the floor together after spending most of the season as cheerleaders.

And, yes, it was McGary dominating the post. He finished with 11 points and nine rebounds, but that doesn’t begin to express how much he helped Michigan at both ends of the floor. When he and Burke ran pick-and-rolls, the Gators were helpless to do anything other than leave Stauskas alone.

More than anything, it was Burke. According to his father, he was playing with a virus, and his shots were short all day. But he still ended up with 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, three steals and only one turnover.

Florida coach Billy Donovan acknowledged that Burke is the engine behind Michigan’s dragster offense.

“It’s all about Burke,” he said. “He’s got incredible shooting range, so you have to guard him at the 3-point line. Then he’s got great speed, so when he comes around the corner on the pick-and-roll, you have to send help.

“But you can’t leave McGary rolling to the basket, so you end up leave Stauskas, and Burke can always find him.”

The Wolverines didn’t slow down after the 20-4 start, either. With 4 minutes left in the first half, Michigan had an believable 41-17 lead and looked more like the Harlem Globetrotters than a squad from the physical Big Ten.

“We came out sluggish against Kansas, but we knew we had to come out tonight and throw the first punch,” Burke said. “Nik got hot early and we know what he can do, so we just kept feeding him the ball.”

Florida outscored Michigan 42-38 over the final 24 minutes, but it was way too late for the Gators to get back into the game. Every time they threatened to get the margin to single digits, Stauskas would hit a 3-pointer or Albrecht would turn a steal into an uncontested layup.

“Nik really didn’t have to do a thing,” Hardaway joked. “He was standing all by himself in the corner, and we just kept getting him the ball. It was easy for him.”

It was easy for all of the Wolverines, and it was also a lot of fun.

“This feels really good,” Burke said before helping cut down the net. “A lot of people said we were too young, and there was no way we could get here. Here we are.

“We did it.”