Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who had 17 points, is fouled by Texas’ Javan Felix in an NCAA tournament game in Milwaukee. The Wolverines will play the winner of today’s Tennessee-Mercer game.
MILWAUKEE — Mitch who? More importantly, Cameron who?
In a matchup where it appeared size in the paint would be a key factor, Michigan wasn’t flustered by its apparent lack of inside presence and skill. Nor was it flustered by the absence of a big center who was key in its 2013 NCAA tournament run — or the opposing center that awaited.
To advance to the Sweet Sixteen, UM coach John Beilein needed his guards to play at the top of their collective game. It was less of a challenge and more of an understanding. Saturday at the Bradley Center, the No. 2 Wolverines turned to their bread and butter in a 79-65 win over No. 7 Texas in an NCAA tournament third-round game.
Michigan (27-8) shot from behind the 3-point arc. And shot some more. UM entered the game 16th in the nation in 3-point percentage at 39.4, finished 14 for 28 from behind the line, and built an 18-point lead with less than eight minutes left in the first half — both by shooting from long range and by neutralizing the inside presence of 6-foot-9, 280-pound Texas center Cameron Ridley.
In a spot where injured big man Mitch McGary should be playing, Jordan Morgan (15 points, 10 rebounds) wasted no time working underneath the basket, helping the Wolverines hold Ridley to six points.
“Somebody like that, he’s got so much size,” Morgan said. “You can’t let him get close to the basket, so we wanted to make all his post touches away from the basket as much as possible and make him dribble and really, really be aggressive with double-teams and swiping at the ball.”
Texas coach Rick Barnes didn’t consider Michigan’s shooting efforts its sole factor in its win. He looked at his own team’s shortcomings.
“We told our team, for every three they hit, we wanted two offensive rebounds,” Barnes said. “That’s what we do, that’s what they do. It wasn’t the 14 3s that beat us … it was not finishing a couple times defensively and the shots in close that we didn’t get to go down.”
Yet with less than eight minutes left in the game, UM held off an offensive push by the Longhorns (24-11) to earn the program’s second consecutive trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
Following a first half in which it finished 12 of 30 from the floor, Texas created offense off transition in a stretch of three minutes to cut UM’s lead to 53-43 eight minutes into the second half, then Isaiah Taylor (22 points) cut it to six with eight minutes left.
“When they started attacking the glass like crazy, their bigs got a lot of second-chance points,” said UM guard Derrick Walton, whose team will face either No. 14 Mercer or No. 11 Tennessee on Friday in Indianapolis. “And basically, they got to the free-throw line. They probably missed one or two free throws tonight, so they crashed the boards really, really tough and made it hard for us to box them out.”
Michigan’s guards opened the game 4 for 8 on 3-pointers and the defense followed suit; in taking a 27-12 lead with 7:38 left in the first half, the Wolverines grabbed 11 defensive rebounds and made smart decisions on the floor, and Ridley quickly became a nonfactor with only four points and four rebounds by halftime.
After a first-half effort in which the Wolverines shot 53 percent, many expected UM to continue its torrid offensive pace.
Instead, Texas built upon its transition game and pulled within six with eight minutes left at 58-52, but Nik Stauskas (17 points) hit a 3-pointer and Glenn Robinson followed with a pair of shots — including a 3-pointer — to stretch Michigan’s lead back to 11.
“The game was sort of going the other way, and then Glenn fixes it,” Beilein said. “That was a tremendous time for him to step up.”