One look at Texas’ size advantage on the frontline and John Beilein of what a long day it would be if his team allowed Texas to impose its will in the post. As it turns out, the day was much longer for the Longhorns. Michigan’s torrid early shooting combined with eight minutes and thirty-five seconds of continuous action to start the game left their Lone Star State counterparts noticeably drained.
“I think everybody's tongues were hanging with eight minutes of straight basketball with no media timeout,” said Beilein. “We're in really good shape. We're not as big as some other teams sometimes. Sometimes that helps you get off to that start. But you still got make shots. But Glenn (Robinson) and Nik (Stauskas) and Jordan (Morgan) told me… we have this thing we call ‘the gauntlet’ where you run and it's really very difficult to accomplish. They felt like they were running the gauntlet in those first few minutes. They fought through it and got it done. “
“I don't even know if that was an advantage for us because we were all pretty tired by that time,” Stauskas added. “We never went that long without a whistle or timeout or anything. We just figured that we'd keep it going and keep running and play to our pace because we were hitting shots and we were feeling good. So obviously we were a little bit tired, but I think we did a good job of pushing through and making shots when we were open.”
Stauskas paced the Maize & Blue on the day with 17 points and four of the Wolverines eye-popping 14 three pointers. As Texas began focusing more on attention on him, he in turn began focusing on getting his teammates more involved. That led to a career high eight assists.
“In the second half when they started playing that zone I just found it really easy to just put my eyes on the basket,” said Stauskas. “And as soon as I put my eyes on the basket or pretend like I'm going the raise up, a lot of people would start running at me. That would leave some of the other guys wide open. So I just tried to be aggressive, and if that's me getting shots at the basket or shots from the other side, that's great. But a lot of time it just leads to guys getting open shots under the rim and from three.”
Beilein was particularly pleased with the way his team dealt with Texas’ defensive change-up.
“When they went zone, we really felt good about our zone offense,” Michigan’s headman stated. “Then they started following cutters through in zone offense. There's basically half man, half zone… figuring it out right. We had to run more man stuff against them because they're really matching up with us. So we had a couple nice shots, and neither of them went in, and it didn't bother us a little bit. But as their zone got more accustomed to what we were doing, there was a challenge there for a little bit. And Nik hit a huge three and then Glenn's two plays when it was a six-point game, that's five times now Glenn Robinson, the game was sort of going the other way and Glenn fixes it. That was tremendous time for him to step up.”
It was just the latest of Robinson recent stretch of big plays in the clutch. I just over a month he has gone from a player that is deferential in such situations to one that is assertive.
“I wanted the ball,” Robinson said referring to his mindset when the Longhorns cut the lead to six. “They were kind keying in on Nik and some of our other guys. I hadn't scored in a while. I figured they were kind of sleeping. I got a couple cuts that I didn't finish. But I went to the rim strong, finished over Cam Ridley, and then knocked down that shot from Nik. Like he said earlier, people are really keying in on him. Once he goes up for that shot, they're trying to block it. That's leaving other guys wide open. I think that was just my job to knock it down.”
Is was a resounding answer to Texas’ second half blitz. Their run was predicated upon being methodical on offense and pounding the offensive glass. Their relentlessness in the paint made Jordan Morgan’s man-sized minutes all the more impressive. The fifth-year senior played physical defense, pounded the glass himself, and was a presence on the offensive end. When the dust settled he had amassed 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“Really proud of our guys because we knew that number, that rebounding number, we probably weren't going to win that today,” Beilein said. “We had to win the other numbers to win the possession number. Proud of only four turnovers. I don't think we had a turnover out of the backcourt in the entire game. So, huge win for us and guys believed and did a great job and it all starts with the guy next to me right here, our only senior.
“As we went through our pregame routine of two days, we were very concerned about Ridley. How could we stop him from getting rebounds and how we could stop him in the post? And Jordan just said, ‘I got him, Coach. Don't worry, I got him.’ He's guarded some pretty good players. You see why last year he was named to the first team of the all-defensive team. He did a wonderful job. Now, they did get 21 offensive rebounds. (Morgan) is 6-8 (and) we're probably lying there. But he just does a wonderful job. You can see his engineering degree all the time. He works angles that probably other opponents don't know he's working at.”
While Morgan’s showing was largely attributable to his sheer will and toughness, he definitely employed a great deal of strategy as well.
“Somebody like (Ridley), he's got so much size,” said Morgan. “Can't let him get close to the basket. So we wanted the make all his post touches, you know, away from the basket as much as possible, make him have to dribble and really, really be aggressive with double-teams and swiping at the ball and things like that.”
Now Michigan finds itself in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. Beilein tends to shy away from the inevitable comparisons to last year’s run, but he does concede that there are a few parallels.
“What I do like about this team is they've never lost two in a row,” he said. “They've been resilient. They get better both in victory and defeat. It depends on a lot of draws and lot of luck and a lot of things, but this team has an attitude that is similar to that team about just picking themselves up when things don't go well. And like Glenn Robinson, Jordan Morgan, they've been making big plays all year long. Spike Albrecht had a huge shot. There's another guy ready to step up all the time. “
“That's where the similarities are.”
You can bet that he hopes the similarities don’t end there.