For the longest time this afternoon, it seemed that Michigan would finally shake some early-season doldrums to get a much-needed win. Glenn Robinson III came out to play, scoring 16 first-half points in what was easily his best extended stretch of play in his young career. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert picked up the pace in the second half, combining for 19 of their 29 total points after the break. Even Spike Albrecht got it going with 10 total points.
In basketball, however, a big win usually takes a strong performance from the opening tip to the final buzzer, and the Wolverines simply couldn’t hold the number one team in the country at bay down the stretch, falling 72-70 to the Arizona Wildcats.
Arizona’s big advantage over Michigan, and against just about every other team in the country this season, is their size and athleticism inside. Earlier this year, Florida State caused all sorts of trouble for Michigan with their big men before Stauskas took over and led the Maize and Blue to victory, but the Seminoles’ big men are certainly not as talented overall as these Wildcats.
Throughout the first half, Michigan was able to simply out-shoot Arizona and played very solid defense. Still, the Wildcats rebounded nearly 43 percent of their own misses but could not convert those second and third chances into buckets. Michigan, on the other hand, rebounded only 33 percent of their misses but managed to score seven points off those opportunities to Arizona’s two.
Then came the second half, and the tides turned. The Wildcats continued to use their front line of Brandon Ashley, Aaron Gordon, and Kaleb Tarczewski to crash the boards, finishing with an overall offensive rebounding rate just under 50 percent, and scored six second-chance points in the latter half to help bolster their efforts while Michigan rebounded fewer than a quarter of their missed shots in the second half and only got two points on those boards.
Jon Horford was well aware of Arizona’s prowess on the glass, saying afterward, “I almost imagined their coach telling them, ‘just go throw it up at the rim, we’re going to get the offensive rebound anyway.’”
Unfortunately, that seemed to be the case all day long.
Sean Miller’s team simply put on a post-play clinic in the second half, resulting in a shot chart that is simply a blob of circles around the numbers 11, 21, and 35 within three feet of the basket. Michigan played valiantly on defense at times in the first half, but when the Wildcats really focused on getting the ball inside late in the game, the Wolverines had no answers, as Gordon, Ashley, and Tarczewski combined to score 20 points in the paint after the break.
Offensively, John Beilein’s squad was very good but struggled late, only mustering three buckets in the last eight minutes of play. Glenn Robinson III, who looked like the lottery pick many have projected him to be in the first half, was perfect before halftime with 16 points on seven shots, but went silent in the last 20 minutes, scoring only four more points on just two shots. His aggressiveness early gave Michigan a small lead and a step-back three to end the first half sent the Wolverines into the locker room up by nine, but Robinson was stifled by Gordon for the better part of the second half.
Now with four tough losses in the books before conference season has begun, Michigan needs to pull together and start closing out some of these close games. It’s becoming more and more apparent every game that Trey Burke’s late game presence has been missed immensely, and today, Derrick Walton, Jr. sat on the bench for 26 minutes and watched Spike Albrecht get the playing time in the crunch.
Despite those blemishes, though, Michigan still seems to be hopeful and will look to improve off today’s loss.
Jon Horford, who played 17 productive minutes with four blocks and four rebounds, was particularly upbeat.
“It’s just something that’s going to help us grow. Mentally, I feel like we’re becoming more and more connected. As a team, I feel like everybody is more on the same page. Everybody has a more positive attitude…I feel like by the time Big Ten (season) gets here, we’re gonna be rolling.”
Nik Stauskas was also about as positive as can be after such a tough defeat.
“I don’t think anyone on this team is worried. If you look at our losses right now, Duke we were there down the stretch, today we were right there, Iowa State we were right there, Charlotte we were right there. It’s just a matter of closing out games right now, something we haven’t done, but as far as being worried about it, I don’t think anyone is.”
With another big game next week Saturday in Brooklyn against Stanford, Michigan needs to keep a positive attitude and close out victories. It’s not time yet to fret about potential postseason destinations, and with each of the 20 remaining regular season games, the Wolverines have plenty of opportunities to strengthen their resume.
The time is now, however, to take advantage of those opportunities.
***Brandon Ashley*** – 18 points (8-of-16 FG, 0-of-1 3pt., 2-of-2 FT), six rebounds, one assist, one block, zero turnovers in 34 minutes
**Glenn Robinson III** – 20 points (8-of-9 FG, 2-of-2 3pt., 2-of-3 FT), four rebounds, two turnovers in 37 minutes
*Nick Johnson* – 14 points (3-of-9 FG, 2-of-4 3pt., 6-of-6 FT), five rebounds, four assists, one steal, one turnover in 36 minutes
• Both teams were excellent from the free throw line all game long, as Michigan made 14 of their 17 attempts and Arizona made 14 of 15. Gabe York missed the Wildcats’ only freebie with one second left, and though it looked intentional, Sean Miller said after the game that he did not instruct York to miss. Nick Johnson was phenomenal from the stripe down the stretch, making all six of his attempts with fewer than 30 seconds to go while Mitch McGary made all four of his big free throws as well late in the second half. Michigan was also in the bonus much earlier than Arizona after halftime but didn’t take advantage with aggressive play.
• Neither team was particularly sloppy with the ball, but Michigan had a few late turnovers that really hurt their chances. Ultimately, the Wolverines coughed it up 11 times to just nine from Arizona (only three of which were in the second half), and four different Michigan players had two turnovers.
• John Beilein was very conservative with the use of his freshmen today, showing a very short leash on Derrick Walton, Jr. and only giving Zak Irvin five minutes. After the game, Beilein pointed to strong play from Spike Albrecht as the reason Walton’s minutes were limited, but during the game he didn’t seem happy with the way Walton was running the offense. In their 19 combined minutes, Walton and Irvin only combined to take two shots, both three-point misses, and neither seemed very comfortable in the big game environment. Irvin got a few minutes late on defensive substitutions but wasn’t able to stay with Nick Johnson on the inbounds plays and had to resort to fouling.
|Final Game Stats|
|01||Glenn Robinson III*||8-9||2-2||2-3||0||4||4||1||20||0||2||0||0||37|
|10||Derrick Walton Jr.*||0-3||0-1||1-2||0||0||0||2||1||1||1||0||0||14|