Kevin Armstrong
Friday November 21st, 2008

NEW YORK -- With his sleeves rolled up and his head down, John Beilein, the old-school coach with the didactic touch, made his way from the Madison Square Garden court toward his team's locker room. Before slipping into the tunnel, he stopped to acknowledge the faithful shouting his name. "Beilein! Beilein!" they screamed as he reached up to share the leftover energy of his Wolverines' 55-52 upset of No. 4 UCLA (RECAP | BOX SCORE). "We love you!"

A moment later, just as he disappeared into the darkened hallway, another fan added, "F--- Rich Rod!"

It's been a long fall of reconstruction in Ann Arbor, but Beilein, who like Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, left Morgantown for the Maize and Blue, has just brightened expectations for the winter.

Looking to lock last season's 9-21 record in the basement of time, the former history teacher rolled out his typical 1-3-1 defense and watched his team execute his painstaking offensive sets.

"The first half to me looked a lot like last year's team," said Beilein, who watched his team fall behind by as many as eight points in the opening half. "We'd act like there's a grenade in our hands and think the ball's going to blow up if we didn't do anything with it."

What he saw in the second half was DeShawn Sims, a 6-foot-8, 235 pound junior forward from Detroit, explode for 10 points to finish with a game-high 18. Told by outsiders that his athletic game would not fit Beilein's cerebral, cut-happy offense, Sims, who considered transferring after Tommy Amaker was fired two years ago, stayed put. Willing to adapt his game, he recalled the 6 a.m. runs on campus and chalk-talk time spent learning Beilein's methods.

"This is what we're building," Sims said. "We don't take the win for granted, but we're going to move on with this."

It was on one of those Princeton backdoor cuts that critics said Sims wouldn't learn quickly enough that sealed the Wolverines' win. With less than a minute left, Beilein let Anthony Wright know in a time-out huddle that the Bruins, who were over-pressuring Sims in the five position, were leaving themselves open to a backdoor cut to the basket. Once in play, Wright recognized Bruins' big man Alfred Aboya overplaying Sims, and the Detroit native cut backward to the rim for an easy basket to put Michigan up 53-49.

"I knew 100 percent that he was going to throw that pass," Sims said.

Few, if any, prognosticators saw this upset coming. Not expected by many to contend for a Big Ten title, Sims and company served notice to frontrunner Purdue and Michigan State that they will be clawing their way back into the league picture. In upsetting the Bruins -- a young team chasing the Final Four legacies left by the previous three teams -- Michigan gained the early season's biggest victory.

"When you're constructing something, the seasons may not be winning ones but you need wins to give credence to what you're doing moving forward," Beilein said.

For the Bruins, who turned the ball over 17 times and saw their vaunted freshman class struggle with the 1-3-1 defense, the first part of their trip East was a step backward. Senior guard Darren Collison calmed the pace at times -- hitting a key three-point shot in the second half and dishing five assists. To negate that goodwill, though, he also accrued four turnovers.

"We were simply impatient," said Collison, who led the Bruins with 13 points.

Afterward, as Beilein and Sims walked in the Garden's inner bowels, a friend of Sims grabbed him and said, "That was a backyard brawl! A tough win!"

Familiar with Backyard Brawl rivalry games from his West Virginia days playing against Ben Howland's Pitt teams -- Beilein kept on moving. With Sims, his hardhat-wearing big man, he knew there was more work to be done.

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