When the Michigan basketball team hit the hardwood Saturday afternoon versus UCLA, they felt that Ben Howland's squad had some choices to make regarding how to defend them. If the Bruins chose to play man to man, then the Wolverines would try to take advantage of the match-ups in the post. If the visitors decided to double down, then the Wolverines would try take advantage of the open looks on the perimeter. UCLA showed in their first defensive sequence the latter strategy would be the one they'd employ, but it became more and more clear as the game went on that Michigan's plan to counter was not going to work.
Michigan avoided the double-downs early on with assertive guard play both in transition and it the half court. Daniel Horton scored two buckets going to the rim to help the Wolverines sprint out to an 8-0 lead five minutes into the contest, but their efficiency soon waned. The Maize and Blue attack bogged down in the half court do to the Bruins' aggressive doubles. On the other end, UCLA's Arrin Afflalo caught fire. The sophomore wing drained four three pointers to key a 16-2 run to put the visitors up by six (16-10), midway through the period.
Michigan headman Tommy Amaker called a timeout to stem the offensive onslaught, and the break in the action seemed to be just what his players needed. . The Wolverines immediately responded out of the break, as Ronald Coleman scored a lay-up off of a nice post feed from Chris Hunter. The bucket sparked an 8-0 run that put the Maize and Blue back out front at the 8:50 mark. Another Bruin counter-punch saw them go back up by seven, (32-25), with three minutes to go, but the home team's running game ate up that advantage down the stretch. The Maize and Blue scored nine straight points, two of which came on a ferocious dunk on the break by Chris Hunter, to head into the half up 34-32.
That lead was pushed to six shortly after the intermission. Then the Bruins' other backcourt member began to heat up. After scoring only six points in the first half, UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Farmar connected on a three pointer at the 17:22 mark to chop the lead in half. Minutes later he added to his total when he swiped a pass at jetted down the court for the slam to knot things up at 41.
Both teams went ice cold over the next three minutes, missing every single shot attempt. That changed very quickly for the Bruins, though, as their backcourt tandem warmed up yet again to put the visitors back on top. Afflalo and Farmar each hit triples to get their team back on track, but the offensive drought continued for the Wolverines. The hard doubles in the post stymied the big men for Michigan, but skip passes on the perimeter often found the guards with wide open looks. Unfortunately for the Maize and Blue, they weren't able to capitalize on the opportunities. Their only points over a nine minute span came on two triples from Lester Abram. Meanwhile, Farmar scored 11 of the Bruins 22 points over that same span to give the visitors at 15 point advantage with 5:58 left in the game.
Chris Hunter finally gave the team a much needed spark by taking his man out of the post late in the contest. On the perimeter, the double team was not a factor and he could take advantage of his versatility. The senior big man drove to the hole for a lay-up, connected from long range, and hit a free throw to cut the lead to seven (63-56) with 3:34 to go. Dion Harris kept the momentum going with a step-back three from the top of the key to chop the lead to four, forcing Bruin coach Ben Howland to call a timeout.
When the Wolverines got back out on the floor, their intense defense forced Afflalo into a hurried shot. However, when the long rebound came off of the rim Bruin freshman Ryan Wright chased it down and allowed his team to burn 30 precious seconds off of the clock.
Michigan had a chance to cut the lead to two after another Afflalo miss, but Bruin guard made up made the play of the game to keep that from happening. After Graham Brown rebounded the errant shot, he immediately sent the outlet pass to Daniel Horton as he was heading up court. Afflalo anticipated the pass and stepped in front to intercept it before laying off to Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to push UCLA's lead back to six with 1:23 left.
Amazingly, the Wolverines still weren't dead. Hunter came right back with a quick lay-up to chop it back to four, and then Farmar was called for an offensive foul 10 seconds later to give the home team the ball back 10. Their final hopes were dashed, though, when Farmar stole another pass, and the Bruins scored three more down the stretch to escape with the 68-61 victory.
"Too many silly turnovers," said Amaker regarding the 18 his team had for the game. "Certainly late in the game we had two that really broke our backs as we were making a run while trying to put ourselves in a position to win this game. Too many of those opportunities that we gave them, they were able to capitalize on and that's the mark of a really good basketball team. For our team to learn to grow, when we get opportunities we have to make sure we catch those."
Still, as problematic as the turnovers were, the story of the game for the Wolverines was their inability to make the Bruins pay for their aggressive post double-downs. "There are times when teams are doing something to take you out of the game with two players," Amaker explained. "We were trying to emphasize to our players that that is a good thing, because now we have four of our players against three of theirs. So we have an advantage if we can make the play out of the trap. We had great shots and I am so disappointed we didn't cash in, because we had wide open threes a number of times off their double team, which probably would have made them think again about double teaming. You see Horton 0-7 from the three and we didn't shoot well at all from the perimeter, especially from the three, and I thought that was a difference."
On the game Chris Hunter led four Wolverines in double figures with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Jordan Farmar and Arron Afflalo had 21 and 20 points respectively for the Bruins. For more on the game, click the following links: Boxscore, Notes, Quotes.
The Wolverines will be looking to resume their winning ways Thursday night
in a home battle with the Miami of Ohio Red Hawks.