INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A moment was there for the taking as the final seconds ticked away for Michigan Sunday evening.
After a brief review, the refs put 2.6 seconds back on the clock after Aaron Harrison’s gutsy, closely contested 24-foot three-pointer fell dramatically through the basket, giving Kentucky a 75-72 lead.
After nonchalantly motioning toward the sideline Stauskas raced to the right side of the floor, arching his run similar to the old a-cut out of a traditional half court set. The ball is tipped, forcing Stauskas to reach back and turn his body enough to slow his rhythm as the clock starts.
Getting his feet set as well as he could, body squared to the basket, Stauskas’ half court shot clanged helplessly off the backboard as the lights turned red and the clock hit zero.
Game over, maybe even college career over, on a play Stauskas and Morgan would rehearse together daily.
“Me and J-Mo actually run that play at the end of every practice,” Stauskas said. “I curl around and we won’t stop until I make it.
“Normally I take two dribbles and go over half court and shoot it but you know, today I could only get to half court and unfortunately I missed it.”
Only this time Stauskas wouldn’t get a second chance, knowing as it left his hands that this season was coming to a close.
“I knew it was off right away,” he said. “I left it right by a couple feet so, I knew right away.”
Despite the ending, Stauskas was the reason Michigan even had a chance to tie the game.
Putting on an offensive clinic in the first half, Stauskas got whatever he wanted off the bounce and on the perimeter as a young Kentucky team continued to sag down allowing for open three-pointers on the wing. Stauskas finished the first half with 18-points on 5-of-7 shooting from the field.
But it was Stauskas’ fearless aggression that stood out most to the 35,551 in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium and the millions watching at home. Much was made of Kentucky’s imposing size and length in the paint but that didn’t stop Michigan’s leading scorer from going right at them, challenging their ability to defend him.
Stauskas hit 6-of-7 free throw attempts in the first 20 minutes of action.
In the second half, Kentucky figured things out a bit -- if Nik Stauskas is having a tough time scoring the ball, Michigan can be beaten.
Stauskas still put up seven shots in the second half, knocking down just one attempt, misfiring on all three shots from beyond the arc. Stauskas was limited to just six second half points but did manage to dish out three assists in the final 20 minutes, of which he played every single one.
“I felt pretty confident all game that we could pull away,” Stauskas said. “But the way they're getting on the offensive glass, it was just tough for us to pull away because they had so many second-chance points.
“I think we did a good job fighting all game and Kentucky, they're a great team and they deserve to go to the Final Four.”
With Michigan’s Final Four hopes now gone by the way side the Wolverines and John Beilein’s program will turn it’s attention to the off-season.
After averaging 17.5 points per game in his sophomore campaign Stauskas would most likely be a first round selection in the 2014 NBA draft should he follow the 2013 Big Ten Player of the Year in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. by declaring early one year after both were selected in the first round.
Though no timetable is established, Stauskas plans to discuss the decision with several close to him and come to a conclusion sooner than later.
“Right now it’s just tough with the way the season ended,” he said. “I’ll talk with my family, talk to my coaches and that decision will be made soon.”
Stauskas added, “It’s tough to come that close to a Final Four and getting sent home. So, I’m not really sure. I don’t know where I’m at right now with the decision so I guess over the next couple days I’ll start figuring it out.”