Wolverines near-miss could prove costly
After winning six of eight in a late-season run, the Wolverines came into their game with No. 12 ranked Wisconsin feeling like they were on the verge of something significant. Tacking a victory over the Badgers onto that recent run of success would look a lot like a ticket to the NCAA.
Michigan coach John Beilein tried to throttle back such talk, and keep his team in the moment. With three games to play in the regular season, Beilein knew the importance of the showdown with Wisconsin, and the weight a win there might carry, but he cautioned his team against putting too much into one game.
The Wolverines were playing for the opportunity to even their record in the Big Ten, with the bonus of impressing the NCAA selection committee. They had the lead into the closing moments, but Wisconsin dashed Michigan's hopes and burst that balloon in improbable fashion -- by banking in a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Michigan dropped a 53-52 decision to the Badgers, and Beilein immediately went into damage control, concerned over the psychological blow his young team might have suffered.
"That's how it goes. You just can't control some of the things that happen in a game," Beilein said. "It's never one play. There was a series of plays in the game, from the beginning to the end, that can impact that."
The Wolverines have a road meeting with Minnesota, and then close the season at home against Michigan State. Beilein needs to quickly revive his team for those two crucial games.
"Our kids are down. I'm really proud of the way our kids played, and the big thing now is to learn from it and stay just as hungry as they were walking into this game, because they were hungry for this win," Beilein said. "As a young team, we cannot use this as a crutch right now. We've got another game coming up on Saturday."
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE: The Wolverines had a critical Big Ten game slip through their grasp when Wisconsin G Josh Gasser banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer, putting Michigan on the wrong end of a stunning 53-52 score. The Wolverines (17-12, 7-9 Big Ten) came out on fire to start the game, making four of its first five shots and hitting 67 percent (12-of-18) from the field in the first half. Despite that strong shooting, Michigan led by just one at the half. In a back-and-forth second half, Michigan held a 52-50 lead with a minute left. Freshman PG Darius Morris went to the foul line with a chance to make it a two possession game, but missed the first shot. Michigan spent four fouls at the other end of the floor, burning the clock down to five seconds with the maneuver. Wisconsin then worked the ball to Gasser, who threw in the game-winner.
--The Wolverines got 16 points from freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. in the loss to Wisconsin. It was Hardaway's 10th straight game in double figures.
--In Michigan's one-point loss to Wisconsin, there were seven ties and 10 lead changes. Michigan's largest lead was just five points, and the Wolverines were never down by more than four.
--Freshman F Jordan Morgan had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the loss to the Badgers. Morgan added five rebounds.
--Michigan junior F Zack Novak led the Wolverines with six rebounds against Wisconsin, marking the 14th time this season he has led the team in rebounds.
--Six of Michigan's 12 losses this season have been to teams ranked in the top 15 in the country.
BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- Michigan has gone through the season as one of the youngest teams in the country, with zero fourth or fifth year players on its roster.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Maybe it's a bit out of character for me. I didn't do it on purpose. There was no strategy there. It was just that I wanted to voice my opinion." -- Michigan coach John Beilein on receiving his first technical of the season in the overtime win at Iowa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--at Minnesota, Feb. 26
KEY MATCHUPS: The Wolverines face a strong Golden Gophers team that has a balanced inside-outside attack in a game that could decide the postseason fate of both teams. Michigan freshman F Jordan Morgan will have his hands full with 6-8, 240 pound junior F Trevor Mbakwe. The Wolverines will also have to be constantly aware of senior G Blake Hoffarber, one of the most feared long-range threats in the Big Ten. Freshman G Tim Hardaway Jr. will have to use his length to help limit Hoffarber's open looks.
FUTURES MARKET: The Wolverines put the ball in the hands of PG Darius Morris very early in his career, and the results were mixed last season when Morris was a freshman. But this season, Morris has given many indications that this position will be a strength for the coming seasons. Morris leads the Big Ten with 6.81 assists per game, and is on track to post the best season assist average in Michigan history. With Morris at the controls, Michigan sees plenty of good fortune in its future.
The TSX Files: U-M needs to refocus fast
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