MILWAUKEE — Michigan’s Wolverines sent a clear message to the rest of the NCAA tournament field on Saturday: Don’t sleep on us.
Believed to be in for a rebuild after losing two starters from last season’s national finalist to the NBA and a third to back surgery, the Wolverines instead won the Big Ten regular-season title with a 15-3 record (27-8 overall), earning a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Regional. Now they’re back in the Sweet 16 following a skillful 79-65 dismantling of Texas in a third round game at BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Ball movement, balance and exceptional three-point shooting were the story. Assists accompanied 16 of Michigan’s 24 buckets. Nik Stauskas scored 17 points, Jordan Morgan added 15 (plus 10 rebounds) and Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert had 14 points apiece for the Wolverines. They shot 14-for-28 on three-pointers, as opposed to 10-for-26 on more conventional shots, offsetting a 41-30 rebounding edge the big, brawny Longhorns enjoyed.
“With their size, we knew we were going to lose that battle, so we had to win the other ones, and we did,” coach John Beilein said. “Four turnovers is terrific—not one from our backcourt.”
Michigan was close to perfect for roughly 28 minutes, building an 18-point lead. Texas then switched to an extended 2-3 zone defense that denied the Wolverines the three-point shots from the wings they’d been hitting with monotonous regularity and cut the deficit to six points with eight minutes remaining.
But Robinson hit the Horns with five straight points, Spike Albrecht knocked down a three for his only bucket of the game, and Morgan emerged from a scrum with a loose ball that he converted into a slam, a play Texas coach Rick Barnes said typified the evening. The lead was 12, and Michigan was headed for Indianapolis and the Midwest Regional.
“We got what we wanted from our defense in the second half, but we didn’t finish some plays and we didn’t get to enough loose balls,” Barnes said. “When you get 21 offensive rebounds, you should shoot better than 37 percent, but we missed a boatload of shots in close.
“The three-point shooting didn’t beat us. That’s what Michigan does.”
Stauskas was 4-for-9 on three-pointers and had eight assists and no turnovers to go with his 17 points.
“He’s a terrific player—you don’t become the Big Ten Player of the Year if you’re not,” Barnes said.
Stauskas, a sophomore, has taken to his expanded role in the Wolverines’ offense.
“Last year we had Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, so Nik didn’t handle the ball as much,” Beilein said. “This year he has the ball more. He has become a good passer, and he’s unselfish.”
Isaiah Taylor, a waterbug-quick freshman, led Texas with 22 points. Nine of the 10 players the Longhorns (24-11) used were freshmen or sophomores.
“The Texas program is back where it needs to be,” Barnes said. “We thought we could win this game. But Michigan was the better team today and they beat us.”