Souhan: Gophers couldn't handle Burke no matter his uniform number

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 11:59 AM

The singing was as loud as it was incongruous. It echoed down the hallways underneath the court, commanding attention like bad karaoke.

The Michigan basketball team belted out "The Victors" on Thursday night in the visiting locker room at Williams Arena, and then Trey Burke emerged wearing a Wolverines jersey for the last time.

At least, he may never wear this particular jersey again. In the biggest game at The Barn in 35 years, the Gophers were so intent on stopping Michigan's point guard that they ripped holes in two of his uniform tops, his usual No. 3 and the No. 12 he was still wearing after all that singing. The jersey bore a gash the size of a smaller melon.

"This is the first time that's ever happened," he said, poking his fist through the hole. "I was kind of shocked. I heard a 'sssstt' and looked down and it was all ripped."

What the Gophers did to his jerseys, Burke did to their grandest ambitions. The sophomore led fifth-ranked Michigan to a never-in-doubt 83-75 victory over the ninth-ranked Gophers in front of a sellout crowd that, by the end of the night, was reduced to griping about meaningless foul calls.

The Gophers planned. Burke laughed.

The Gophers figured playing their biggest home game in 35 years would give them a decided atmospheric advantage. Burke controlled the flow of the game, and thus the crowd, from the start.

The Gophers planned to slow Burke with their own outstanding point guard, Andre Hollins. Burke had Hollins on the bench with foul trouble before seven minutes had elapsed.

The Gophers planned to use their loss, and second-half comeback, at Indiana as an emotional springboard. Burke frustrated them by shredding their half-court defense and setting up uncontested three-pointers and dunks for his teammates.

The Gophers planned to use their press to come back in the second half. Burke either beat it singlehandedly or cleared out, taking the Gophers' best defender with him.

The result was a loss that left the Gophers with a clear understanding of their place in college basketball. They're a good team in an excellent conference. They're not as good as Michigan. Few teams are.

Burke ranks among the elite, as well. Does he have a chance to become the best player, period? "Definitely," he said. "Just because of my level of confidence and the guys surrounding me. I'm always willing to learn. Sometimes I'm a little defiant, but I'm always willing to learn."

Burke produced 18 points, nine assists, a block and a steal. He could have had a few more assists if his teammates had finished layups. He played 36 minutes, committing just one turnover. He made three of his six three-point attempts.

Although he missed 10 of his 15 shots from the field, Burke dictated the pace of play. His coach said he took charge on the sideline, too.

"Trey Burke was tremendous in the huddle," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He was saying, 'What would we think if we were down 19 right now? We'd be ready to battle back.' That was Trey Burke.

"He's expanding his game and exploring his game, and it's really important that he do that. At the same time, he's making the right play at the right time."

Modern television technology, from the cameras to the HD sets that bring the game to life in your living room, offers the illusion that watching a broadcast is like watching a game in person. Burke is one of those players you have to see in person to appreciate his quickness and court vision.

Tim Hardaway Jr. led Michigan with 21 points, making seven of eight attempts from the field. Thanks to Burke, he didn't have to work hard for his points.

With Burke, Hardaway and Glenn Robinson III, the Wolverines are much tougher than the tearaway jerseys they wear.

"When my jersey tore and I got the No. 12, Coach said, 'That's John Stockton's number,'" Burke said. "Now, I know I've got a long way to go to get there. But I just wanted to represent it the right way."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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