Michigan 80, Davidson 61
ATLANTA (AP) _ Could this be 1989 all over again?
Michigan, hoping to follow the same path that carried the Wolverines to their only national championship, won its first NCAA tournament game since 1994 with an 80-61 rout of Davidson on Friday night to open the South Regional.
All but three of the Michigan players shaved their heads for the tournament, saying they wanted to recapture the aura of the ``Fab Five.″
``They had success in the tournament doing it, so we just decided to just shave our heads clean and get a clean start,″ guard Travis Conlan said. ``Most of the guys shaved their heads. A couple of guys were real scared to, but it’s all in team unity and team fun.″
It should be noted, however, that the Fab Five never won a national title. The 1989 team did, launching its bid in a fashion eerily similar to this year’s squad.
Nine years ago, the Wolverines were a third seed opening the tournament in Atlanta with an interim coach, Steve Fisher. Once again, Michigan has an interim coach, Brian Ellerbe, and wound up with a No. 3 seed in Atlanta after its victory in the inaugural Big Ten tournament.
Third-seeded Michigan (25-8) raced to a double-figure lead in the first five minutes and Davidson never got closer than nine. It wasn’t an overly impressive performance by the Wolverines coming off their conference championship, but it was easily enough against the Wildcats (20-10).
Robert ``Tractor″ Traylor, who predicts the Wolverines will reach the Final Four, was double-teamed constantly, got tagged with his third foul early in the second half and finished with only 14 points. Michigan also squandered several chances to build the margin by missing the first attempt in four 1-and-1s.
But guards Louis Bullock and Robbie Reid picked up the slack. Bullock hit four 3-pointers and all eight of his free throws to finish with 20 points. Reid connected on five 3-pointers and had 17 points.
Michigan will play UCLA in the second round. The Bruins defeated Miami 65-62.
``Robbie got us started with a couple of 3s,″ Ellerbe said. ``That enabled us to get started inside. We were a little lethargic at times, but played good enough to win.″
As for Traylor, the coach said, ``Robert has become a much more accomplished passer in the post, which gives us better balance. He didn’t force things tonight, which made our outside game more effective.″
All but three Michigan players decided to shave their heads for the tournament. Reid was one of those who didn’t, opting to go with a crew cut instead.
``No, I didn’t get my hair shaved,″ he said. ``But compared to a couple of weeks ago, this is bald for me.″
Michigan had not won an NCAA game since its run to the 1994 regional finals with the remnants of the ``Fab Five.″ Two straight first-round losses were followed by a trip last season to the National Invitation Tournament, which the Wolverines won.
Davor Halbauer scored 14 points to lead No. 14 seed Davidson, making its first NCAA appearance since 1986. The Wildcats have not won a tournament game since 1969, when Lefty Driesell guided them to the East Regional finals for the second straight season.
The Wolverines, who shot 53 percent from the field, broke away from a 7-7 tie with a 20-2 run. Reid connected three times from outside the 3-point arc during the spurt and Maceo Baston finished it off by converting a three-point play with 10:31 remaining in the first half.
``The early-game nerves were apparent,″ Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. ``The success Michigan had shooting led to us digging that hole and made it impossible to climb out of.″
Davidson recovered to prevent an early blowout, trailing 37-25 at halftime. The Wildcats got as close as 39-30 on Mark Donnelly’s basket just over a minute into the second half, and Traylor went to the bench shortly afterward with his third foul.
But Michigan doggedly protected its lead and pulled away when Traylor returned. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound center followed up a miss and then hit two free throws with 8:07 left to give the Wolverines a 65-46 advantage, their biggest until the final minute.
``The outside guys did a great job of hitting their shots early,″ Traylor said. ``That gave me a chance to work inside.″
Davidson’s loss ended the nation’s third-longest winning streak. The Wildcats were 8-9 on Jan. 22 before winning 12 straight games, including three in the Southern Conference tournament to claim an automatic bid.
``For a school like us, coming here is like coming to the Final Four,″ Donnelly said. ``I know we lost to a great team, so it’s not a heart-wrenching loss and it doesn’t take away anything from our season.″