NCAA Southeast Regional at Atlanta : Rice Scores 36, Michigan Beats South Alabama
The common thought running through the Omni early in the second half of Sunday’s game between Michigan and South Alabama was that the upstart Jaguars were about to pull off another upset over another big-name, big-conference opponent in the second-round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Southeast Regional.
Although South Alabama had a six-point lead, 57-51, with 16:06 remaining, and the crowd on its side, Michigan’s Glen Rice was of a different mind.
“What was in the back of my mind was that I didn’t want it to be my last game,” the Wolverines senior forward said.
As things turned out, Rice made sure that it wasn’t. With a game-high 36 points, Rice led third-seeded Michigan past South Alabama, 91-82.
The Wolverines advanced to the regional semifinals against North Carolina Thursday in Rupp Arena at Lexington, Ky.
It will mark the third consecutive season that Michigan (26-7) will meet North Carolina during the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines were eliminated the last two times.
In fact, Michigan might not have had made it this far if it wasn’t for Rice.
“The Rice kid was unbelievable,” said South Alabama Coach Ronnie Arrow, whose team had beaten state-rival Alabama Friday. “I’ve coached some great shooters, but he could be one of the best I’ve seen.”
Rice, who made 16 of 25 shots from the field, brought Michigan back from its six-point deficit by scoring 10 of the Wolverine’s next 12 points. And it was Rice who started a crucial 10-2 run late in the game that eventually sealed the victory for the Wolverines.
A 16-footer with 3:06 remaining gave the Wolverines an 80-78 lead. With Michigan ahead, 83-80, and 1:30 left, Rice made a three-point shot from the top of the key. Rice also had a team-high eight rebounds and five assists.
“It’s a lot easier when you have No. 41 (Rice) as one of your options,” said Michigan assistant coach Steve Fisher, who is 2-0 since taking over the team last week after Bill Frieder, who took a position at Arizona State, was told by Athletic Director Bob Schembechler he could no longer coach the team. “We wanted to find Glen Rice. We wanted to get him open.”
With the help of some massive picks, Rice got open and got the ball. It didn’t hurt that Rice, at 6-feet-7, had a four-inch height advantage over Junie Lewis, who played him whenever the Jaguars were in a man-to-man.
“It was much easier (to shoot),” Rice said. “But our big men were putting some body on their smaller guys.”
The screens thrown by Michigan, in particular Terry Mills and Mark Hughes, enabled Rice some shooting space.
“The more belly up I got, the more Mills came out,” said Lewis, who led South Alabama with 25 points. “I tried to go through him a couple of times. It hurt so much that I started going around him.”
Said Arrow: “We were hoping to get their big ones tired by running on them. Those guys are so strong that trying to get through them is like trying to get through Grand Central.”
For a while, it looked as if Michigan was going to be run right out of the tournament. After taking an early 20-9 lead, the Wolverines watched South Alabama go ahead, 26-25. The Jaguars led at the half, 47-44.
But the Wolverines came back behind Rice, and a three-point play by Mills with 3:17 left put Michigan ahead for good, 83-80. Mills finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and five steals.