MINNEAPOLIS -- The Michigan collapse began almost imperceptibly. It was hard to spot because no one had ever seen this bunch of youngsters flinch before.
It came in the same form as many other bold antics concocted by the Wolverines' freshmen -- a unique protest by guard Jalen Rose.
After Rose was assessed his fourth foul, he turned to the CBS broadcasting crew and accusingly requested that a replay be shown.
"Replay," said Rose to the courtside broadcasters, mouthing the words almost silently but showing defiance in his expression. "Replay."
The Wolverines were down by four points then, and 12:45 remained in the game, but their resolve was breaking.
And it seemed that in no time at all, Duke had the game, and the national championship, by the throat.
When it was over, the only replay the Wolverines wanted would've started from the tipoff.
Tears began to flow before they hurriedly left the court, and it somehow seemed that the thought had already crossed their minds, probably while time still remained on the game clock, that they'll have another chance.
With all their brassiness, after all, they are freshmen.
"The fact that we made it this far can never be taken away from us," said Rose, who had 11 points and four turnovers, "and we'll be back next year."
Chris Webber, Michigan's irrepressible center, wasn't as yielding. Defiance was still fixed on his grim face.
"There'll never be a freshman class that will do that," said Webber, speaking of his team's accomplishment and the heady experience of winning over Oklahoma State and Ohio State en route to the finals when nobody believed it could. "But I didn't play this game for experience. I played it to win."
It may have been experience, or the lack of it, that was the telling factor last night.
Michigan suffered largely because its leaders, Rose and Webber, were saddled with foul trouble from the early reaches of the game, and the Wolverines responded poorly when their troubles compounded.
Webber's second and third fouls were particularly questionable, and Rose thought he certainly had an argument on a couple called against him.
The young Wolverines seemed to start reacting like victims in the sec ond half after both Rose and Webber picked up their fourth fouls.
"A lot of us were in foul trouble," said Rose, explaining why the game quickly went from a contest to a blowout. "When you're in foul trouble, you can't be aggressive."
Michigan, its offense sinking into a malaise and downcast expressions breaking through the young players' faces, hit only nine of 31 shots from the field in the second half.
The Blue Devils, occasionally using a press but always raking at the ball wherever it went, had much to do with that, but the spark that had always been so distinctive and prevalent in the young players was absent.
Loose balls fell in front of Michigan players only to be retrieved by one of Duke's players who had come from farther away.
Bad shots were taken and foolhardy gambles made as resignation firmly set it.
"When we missed some shots, it led to a flurry of conversion baskets for them," said Michigan coach Steve Fisher. "In the last five minutes, as we extended [the defense] and gambled, it blew open."
Michigan's swoon in the last 10 minutes wasn't a young, smart-mouthed team giving up as much as it was one roaming the court in a state of shock.
"I'm upset because we could have won the game just as easy as we lost," said Webber, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds. "We had a great season."
Fisher apologized for his team's abrupt departure from the court at game's end, saying the players didn't want 50 million people to see them crying.