YPSILANTI, Mich. — Two charter planes carrying two different University of Michigan athletic teams crossed paths on the tarmac at Willow Run Airport on Tuesday. The men’s basketball team had returned from its appearance Monday night in the NCAA National Championship game against Villanova in San Antonio. The hockey team was preparing to depart for its Frozen Four matchup Thursday night against Notre Dame in St. Paul, Minn.
The success each program has had this season hasn’t been lost on either coach, John Beilein and Mel Pearson. That success, they said, is what Michigan strives for in all its athletic programs.
“It gives great credence to the magnitude and the excellence of the entire University of Michigan athletic department,” Beilein said. “That’s our hope at Michigan, that every sport can compete for Big Ten championships and when you compete for a Big Ten championship you can compete for a national championship. That’s exactly what happened in men’s basketball and ice hockey.”
The basketball team lost to Villanova, 79-62, to end its season 33-8 and one win shy of the program’s second national title.
The hockey team is going to the Frozen Four for the 25th time in program history, and doing so in the first year with Pearson at the helm. He was hired last spring to replace Red Berenson, who retired after 33 seasons, 848 wins, 11 conference championships, 11 Frozen Fours and two national titles. Pearson was a former assistant under Berenson who was hired after six seasons as head coach at Michigan Tech.
He’s relishing the excitement the two teams have brought to campus and fans.
“You can feel the buzz, you see it everywhere you walk on campus,” Pearson told Land of 10. “Signs around campus and different establishments. Students are all excited. It’s great, and that’s what’s special about Michigan. It’s not only one team, it’s a lot of different teams that are doing well. That’s the beauty of Michigan and what makes Michigan athletics great.”
Michigan will face off against Notre Dame at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Xcel Center in St. Paul. The teams split four games in the regular season. The winner will take on the winner of Ohio State and Minnesota-Duluth for the national championship Saturday night.
“We know we can beat them,” Pearson said. “We’ve done that the last two times we played them. We had four really good games with them this year. At this time of year, I’ve seen it many times, anybody can win and it’s the team that’s playing the best at this time of the year.”
Beilein said he’ll be watching on Thursday. And Saturday?
“I don’t know what I’m doing Saturday,” Beilein said. “If I’m away recruiting I may not be able to do it but I’ll either be in Minnesota or watching the game if they make it. I’ll definitely be watching the game Thursday night, and if they make to Saturday I’ll make every effort to be there.”