Michigan led for almost the entire contest, but let a golden opportunity slip away when Nik Stauskas’s half court prayer went just wide to the left as the Wolverines fell to the nationally number 1 ranked Arizona Wildcats 72-70.
Despite Arizona having a significant overall size advantage over Michigan, the Wolverines really battled hard in the first half and won the majority of the 50-50 balls in the paint to effectively close out possessions. Glenn Robinson III, for all the criticism he has taken in the early going of the season, played spectacularly in the first half: he had 16 loud points to open the game (finishing with a game-high 20) including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wolverines a 37-28 advantage into the break. Spike Albrecht, even while coming off the bench, was clearly Michigan’s best point guard; he got the Wolverines into numerous transition run-outs and found open cutters in the half court as well. Additionally, Jon Horford had a terrific sequence off the bench at the 14 minute mark, with a thunderous dunk in transition and then a huge block on the defensive end. An encouraging sign for Michigan was taking a 9 point lead into half against the number 1 team in the nation while their best scorer, Nik Stauskas, was held to only 5 first half points.
Michigan continued strongly as the second half got under way featuring a right-handed slam by Mitch McGary out of the locker room. After a possession of John Beilein’s patented 1-3-1 zone defense forced an Arizona turnover, a beautiful Caris LeVert to Glenn Robinson III alley-oop kept Michigan ahead 51-46 with 11:23 remaining. However, a very talented and balanced Wildcats attack would simply not go away; future NBA lottery picks Aaron Gordon and Brandon Ashley over time wore out Michigan with baskets down low and with 2:30 left in the game, Arizona retook the lead 63-62.
A chaotic final 150 seconds would ensue: a tough Brandon Ashley bucket in the lane was sandwiched between two Mitch McGary free throws and a Nik Stauskas blow-by layup to see Michigan up 66-65 with a minute to go. With 24 seconds on the clock, after Arizona point guard TJ McConnell came up with a fortunate rebound in the corner, a soft foul call on Mitch McGary (the type that Bill Raftery would refer to as a “nickel-dimer”) gave Arizona a 1-and-1 opportunity which guard Nick Johnson successfully converted to make the score 67-66 Wildcats. A missed 15 foot jump shot by Stauskas, two made free throws by Arizona, and Sean Miller smartly instructing Arizona to foul the Wolverines while up 3 points prevented a potential Michigan comeback. Only a Spike Albrecht 3-pointer with two seconds left and a missed Arizona free throw gave Nik Stauskas the failed Hail Mary chance to close the game out.
Michigan will look to knock off the bitter taste of a tough defeat when they return to action next Saturday, 12/21 in Brooklyn, New York versus Stanford in the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational. Tipoff is at 8:30pm and will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
Quotes after the game of interest
“I lost one of the toughest games ever on a 3-pointer and decided right then and there on the bus ride home never to lose another game like that ever again.” – Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller, referencing the classic Ohio State vs. Xavier Round of 32 Game in the 2007 NCAA Tournament
“Arizona is as good of a team as I’ve seen in all my stops in my career.” – John Beilein
“We made a major stride today even in defeat.” – John Beilein
“I’ve made that shot a million times before.” – Nik Stauskas commenting on his missed jump shot with 9.5 seconds left that would have tied the game
“The team is still connected mentally. We’ll be rolling by Big Ten play.” – Jon Horford
“As a team this game was good for our growth. But I hate to lose.” – Glenn Robinson III