Michigan guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman shoots over Louisville's Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel during the second half. ASSOCIATED PRESS
INDIANAPOLIS — When Michigan walked to the locker room at halftime of Sunday’s game against Louisville, Bankers Life Fieldhouse was rattling, much like it would be about an hour later.
At that moment, it wasn’t a good thing for UM. Louisville had just ended the first half on an 8-0 run, zapping all the energy out of the Wolverines, who had managed to pull even with the Cardinals in the final two minutes of the half despite playing poorly.
Michigan didn’t re-emerge on the court until three minutes before the start of the second half. But the scene inside the locker room wasn’t one of panic and despair. Far from it.
“We felt like we were settling too much,” said senior guard Zak Irvin. “When we did get in the paint, they kept blocking our shots. They were long and athletic. In the second half, we just went right to them, they’d fly by us, and we’d get easy baskets.”
“We focused a lot on the game plan,” added senior forward Mark Donnal. “We knew they would be good on the boards. They were crashing hard, and they were taking us to the basket at will. We knew if we wanted to win that we’d have to stop them in both of those areas.”
Louisville outrebounded Michigan 24-16 in the first half. The Cardinals’ 10 offensive rebounds and 11 second-chance points were particularly frustrating for the Wolverines.
In the second half, Michigan grabbed 14 rebounds compared to Louisville’s 13 and limited the Cardinals to five offensive rebounds and six second-chance points.
Guard Quentin Snider missed all six shots he attempted after the break. For the game, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman held Donovan Mitchell to 19 points on 17 shots.
It was another steely showing for the Wolverines’ go-to defender.
“We just said we need to chip away,” Abdur-Rahkman said.
DONNAL’S SPARK: As Louisville stymied Derrick Walton, Jr., in the first half, forcing Michigan’s stalwart point guard into a lackluster shooting performance, the Wolverines looked for a burst of energy.
It came from an unlikely source.
Donnal, a former Anthony Wayne standout, had a 55-second flurry of corner 3-pointer, rebound, and ferocious blocked shot.
“It felt good,” Donnal said. “That’s my job — to come off the bench and give it all I’ve got. I thought I did a good job of that in the first half. We were struggling a little bit getting buckets, so I was trying to help rally everybody and try and get things going.”
He finished with three points, one rebound, and one block in nine minutes. Donnal doesn’t shoot from 3-point range often, but when he does hoist deep shots, they go in at a high rate. He’s 9-of-18 from beyond the arc this season.
CLUTCH PLAYER: Walton scored 10 points and made just three shots. True to form, two of them were the biggest of the game.
He didn’t care that he was 1-of-11 late in the game. Michigan was leading by one points and the senior point guard was going give the Wolverines a lift. So he calmly and coolly drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“At this point of my career, I’m very confident in myself ,” Walton said. “Whether I’m missing or making shots, I know I’m going to make a big impact on the game. Never throughout the game do I doubt myself.”
Michigan led by two with less than a minute left, as Louisville forged a rally. That’s when Walton decided his late-game heroics were in need. A driving lay-in gave Michigan a four-point lead to hold off the Cardinals.
“I kept telling the guys, give me the ball, I’ll bring us home,” said Walton, who contributed seven rebounds and six assists.
Said Pitino: “We concentrated on taking away Walton because he's been on such a run. Then we gave him his right hand on a couple of crucial plays. That's what it comes down to — a couple of crucial plays. We made a couple of big mistakes.”