John Beilein, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Aubrey Dawkins and Zak Irvin were on the podium after Michigan’s blowout win over Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday afternoon. Read their comments in the transcript below.
COACH BEILEIN: Really proud of our team because we know Illinois is a very good team. We’ve been seeing some things in practice over the last couple of weeks that showed some growth, even though we may not have seen that in a couple of our losses at the end of this year. Every day these kids are embracing the growth mindset we’ve tried to have.
Really proud that we could show that today, and our kids really played the best defense we’ve played in a long time, really connected. And then our offense, we’re finding multiple ways to score right now because of multiple ball handlers now rather than just one or two, which we had earlier in the year.
Q. Aubrey, talk about the team’s mentality coming into this game, the one‑and‑done mentality. I know Coach talked about how UConn could do it and win all those games, you guys could do it. Could you talk about how you embrace that mentality?
AUBREY DAWKINS: We’re just looking for every game, not to look too far in the future, but to play every game and focus on that game, not looking ahead and who we’re going to play next. Just trying to win the game we’re on, and that’s helped us stay focused and turn up the aggressiveness we need to get a win.
Q. Zak, the coach was saying that he saw growth over practice. Specifically what type of growth, and what was it that we saw in that game that kind of exemplified that growth?
ZAK IRVIN: I just think our unity that we had. We came up with a great start, up 14‑2 and Illinois was able to make their run, but I think we were able to stay connected and stay together and were able counter that run and make ours.
Q. Muhammed, first few minutes of the first half and then again in the first few minutes of the second half, you took it right Egwu for a lay‑up. What did you do differently against their defense today that allowed you to have more success?
MUHAMMED‑ALI ABDUR‑RAHKMAN: Just being more aggressive, not being passive and let them get up in you in defense, and I was just being aggressive from the start.
Q. Muhammed and Aubrey, you guys have taken on much bigger roles as the season has gone on. What has been key for you guys growing into those roles and embracing them and playing well?
AUBREY DAWKINS: I think a lot of it’s just been understanding what the situation is and knowing what we need to step up, and with our aggressiveness, our focus in the game, from the scouting reports, everything, we need to step up and focus on what we’re working on.
MUHAMMED‑ALI ABDUR‑RAHKMAN: Studying the game to know what’s going on in the game, things like that, strategy against us is definitely a big part of our growth, and we just want to continue to be growing.
Q. How much of that studying is Coach Beilein? Is that something he’s been telling you guys to focus on every single day?
MUHAMMED‑ALI ABDUR‑RAHKMAN: I think it’s both Coach B and us. We all want to become better players and that’s one way to become a better player.
Q. What did you do today against Illinois to get the win?
ZAK IRVIN: Once again, I just think we stayed together. We went to Illinois, we had the lead for most of the game, but we weren’t able to finish. And I was just proud of all the guys and how hard we competed today. With the run they made, we were just able to counter that and really had control of the game for the most part.
Q. Aubrey, it’s been a while since we, the media, have discussed Michigan without talking about the injuries, injury‑depleted Michigan and all that. Is that part, do you think, of your team’s identity? Internally do you guys sort of look at yourselves that way, too, and somehow use it as motivation?
AUBREY DAWKINS: Yeah, it’s definitely motivation. We’re not going to be slack or upset about the things that happened to our team in the past. We’re going to try and step up and keep get being better. We’re not going to let a couple setbacks hold us back. We’re going to try and get better, no matter what the situation is.
Q. You talked about the growth process. Sometimes in sports we see when teams go through adversity situations where younger players have to elevate their roles, then next year you see the benefits of that. Are you starting to see that a little bit early with this team, though?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, that was our film session last night when we got here. There was about five or six plays yesterday‑‑ I watch every practice, I go over it again, and then I try and show them clips that I think are really important to the next game or something down the road, and there was five or six things that happened in that game that flat‑out weren’t happening, let alone two months ago, weren’t happening last week. Just the game, especially Aubrey, Muhammed and Kam, the game was just slower. All of a sudden it was hitting in some areas, and obviously to keep that focus is hard, but that’s all we did. We saw the cards we were dealt. It just became, all right, we’re 100 percent‑‑ not 100 percent‑‑ we’re going to be half development of this team and half trying to win that next game because we’ve got to think about the future as well as today.
Q. Illinois threw in the second half everything they did at you the last meeting when they were coming back and you didn’t let them come back this time. What was different? Why were you guys more ready?
COACH BEILEIN: I don’t know. I mean, when we were up by 20, it’s tough on Illinois’s part to get motivated to expend all that energy when things are slim that you can win the game. We did a couple just new things against their pressure, but we didn’t turn the ball over a lot last time, we just turned it over a couple key times, and we didn’t have those times today, thank goodness. We had one late.
Our guys, every day they grow, and they recognize things, and the coaches recognize what they can handle and what they can’t handle, and that’s the key, how we can cut that off and make sure that we’re all on the same wavelength while they still can grow.
Q. What were the new things you tried?
COACH BEILEIN: Zak in‑bounded the ball a lot. Zak Ervin had six assists today. You can look it up, Zak had five assists after eight games this year, I think it was eight games. So he wasn’t showing that‑‑ see the whole floor. As his numbers have grown, one of the big things, now you put a taller guy there. He was not able to do that earlier, and we’ve been working with him sort of on the side, just his passing, it all sort of came together. And now we can get a better guy taking the ball out of bounds at times. It depends, if it’s a dead ball, it was Zak today.
Q. You’ve been experiencing it for the last few months now, but how continually impressed and proud are you of these guys for stepping up with some of the injuries you have?
COACH BEILEIN: We love going to practice every day. We have zero issues off the court or in practice, other than throwing the ball to the other team or not being able to make a shot sometimes. They are just all in, how can we get better. You look at those freshmen, we couldn’t think about putting them in the game earlier in the year. They just were not ready defensively, and every day the scout team was beating them and beating them and they were missing switches and missing assignments, and every day they’ve gotten better. We had no other choice.
It’s really good because they’re such great kids from great families, they deserve this because it has been difficult. They’ve seen more losses with Michigan than we’ve seen in a long time. I’m really proud of them.
Q. If you could just comment on Spike Albrecht’s leadership and what he’s brought to the team, especially baling through the injury he’s had this year.
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah, we obviously could not do this without him. He’s our only primary ball handler that can really play, and it’s made other people get better. But I’m just telling you, he works hard every day. I’ve got to be very careful and try to rest him because he reminds me of the Zach Novak types that we’ve had that they go hard every day in practice, and you’ve got to sort of channel him back.
The last couple of weeks, Dakich got as many reps as he did because I wanted him to rest because he goes after it. The way he sees the floor and does some other things, we’d be in tough shape without him right now. Some people would probably argue with you’ve got some good players. Some people have to argue who’s been the most valuable. Some people would have to say that guy has been incredible all year long for us.
Q. Given last year’s tournament game against Illinois, they gave you more than a lot of people expected them to. I don’t know about you, but in this year’s overtime games, both of them, were you surprised to see the Illini just start slowly and then not have any kind of an answer at all in the second half?
COACH BEILEIN: You know, all these games, well over 1,000, never surprised by anything you see. The teams will just come out in a funk sometimes, and coaches have no control, players have no control. It’s just difficult.
And same thing can happen to us, as well. We’ve had some games here where I think Ohio State‑‑ when you ‑‑ the Big Ten champion, and one of the big ‑‑ with Ohio State, and it was like a 30‑point mismatch in the semifinals game. Teams are going to come out, and you just don’t know in this atmosphere what can happen. It doesn’t mean that tomorrow they couldn’t beat us the same way. They’re 19 years old, they’re 20 years old. It’s been a long season. Men’s basketball plays the toughest, most rigorous schedule of any sport in college basketball, and kids go through a lot, getting up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning midweek. You don’t know what’s going to happen, particularly this time of the year.