SEATTLE -- It had a lot to do with the "More drab than Fab" headline in yesterday's paper, describing Michigan's close victory over George Washington. And the fact that, despite their 29-4 record, the Wolverines are being labeled as underachievers.
When the Michigan starters -- particularly Chris Webber -- met the media yesterday, they were not a cheerful group.
"The more you keep asking us about our play," Webber said, "the worse you're making it for Temple."
If that's the case, the Owls are going to be in a great deal of trouble at the Kingdome this afternoon in the West regional final.
Despite reaching the regional final for the second straight year and despite having a better record than when it reached the NCAA championship game last year, Michigan, which beat George Washington, 72-64, Friday, has left many observers less than impressed.
"I'm not upset at all," Webber said. "We won. As far as Chris Webber is concerned, I'm proud of Michigan. There are teams that have played poorly . . . that didn't advance."
The Wolverines did, with the "Fab Five" scoring all but three points against George Washington. Even the players acknowledge that the game, which they led by just two with 1:40 left, was the latest in a series of lackluster efforts.
"We need to play with a little more intensity and a little more enthusiasm," said Michigan point guard Jalen Rose, who had 16 points and six assists on Friday. "I don't think we've played whole games badly, but we had to get this far. But to win [the national championship], we have to pick it up."
That won't be easy against Temple, which has allowed only five of 32 opponents to shoot better than 50 percent. No. 3 seed Vanderbilt was one, shooting 52.3 percent on Friday. But the Commodores had 18 turnovers, which was uncharacteristic, and shot just one free throw as they were unable to establish an inside game against Temple's aggressive matchup zone.
"They have good athletes and they play their defense so well that they know where the passing lanes are," Vanderbilt coach Eddie Fogler said. "They make you make passes and get in situations you really aren't used to."
That's all part of the "live where they live" philosophy of Temple coach John Chaney, who designs to deny a team its strengths. Against Vanderbilt, Temple tried to deny the outside shots of a team that made 41 percent of its three-pointers this season (46.2 percent against Temple on Friday). Against Michigan, the smaller Owls will have to live in the lane, where Webber, who is 6 feet 9, and 6-9 center Juwan Howard (17 points, 10 rebounds against George Washington) are dominant.
If Temple is able to keep pressure on the Michigan guards, the inside game may not be a factor. George Washington caused problems when it pressed the Wolverines.
"We have a great deal of respect for them, and more so now," said Michigan coach Steve Fisher, referring to Temple's surprising advancement in the tournament. "They play a zone like no other team plays it, so it's very hard to prepare."
It was clear yesterday that Temple players are not in awe of their much heralded opponents.
NB "I'm not caught up in that Fab Five stuff," Temple guard Aaron
McKie said. "I play against great players all summer in Philadelphia. This is a big game, but I just want to play like I normally do."
The team was extremely loose yesterday, a mood set by Chaney, who joked throughout yesterday's media session. The Temple coach recalled a moment from Friday's game when Eddie Jones -- who scored a game-high 26 points -- asked to come out of the game. "Eddie was hollering that he was tired with one minute to play [in the first half], and I said, 'Eddie you're not tired,' " said Chaney, who used only six players. "He said, 'get me.' Get him what? I just turned my head. Winners don't get tired, losers get tired."
The Wolverines are hoping they can regain the spirit that carried them to last year's title game. "[Fisher] told me to relax and smile," Webber said. "I watched [the George Washington tape], and I looked like a 20-year veteran -- like [Robert Parrish]. "I want to bring that youthfulness back to my game. Once we get that kid feeling back to our game and relax, we'll be a better team."
West Regional final at a glance
MICHIGAN (29-4) vs. TEMPLE (20-12) Site: The Kingdome, Seattle
Time: 4 p.m.
TV: Channels 11, 9
Coaches: Michigan, Steve Fisher (97-36 in four years); Temple, John Chaney (459-143 overall, 253-96 in 11 years at Temple)
Analysis: The two teams met in the first round of the Southeast Regional last year, when Michigan defeated Temple, 73-66, en route to the Final Four. Since losing at Indiana on Feb. 14, the Wolverines have won 10 straight games, including three in the tournament. Temple has won six of its past seven and is playing in its third regional final in the past six years. This game will boil down to how well Michigan is able to handle Temple's match-up zone defense. The Owls have limited opponents to 59 points per game in three tournament wins and have not allowed more than 61 points. Even the offense came alive in Friday's 67-59 win over Vanderbilt, with a 66.7 percent performance from the field in the second half. Junior Eddie Jones scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the final 20 minutes. The Owls forced Vanderbilt into 18 turnovers -- Michigan committed 20 in its win over George Washington. Each of the Wolverines' "Fab Five" scored in double figures Friday, but the team is playing extremely tight. If the Wolverines find that care-free style that was their trait last year, they likely will make another appearance in the Final Four. If Michigan plays as it did against George Washington, the team probably won't escape against a Temple team whose experienced coach will not let the Owls be intimidated.