After Julius Randle inadvertantly helped Michigan tie the game, the Wolverines had all of the momentum. But the Kentucky Wildcats had the ball. The Wildcats took the clock down, and Aaron Harrison launched a deep three in the face of Caris LeVert to give Kentucky a 75-72 victory over Michigan.
Michigan basketball was up early in the game, and the first half saw them lead by up to 10 points. Nik Stauskas was on fire, hitting in the lane, from beyond the arc, and at the free throw line. He didn’t get much help, as no one else on the Wolverines scored more than five in the first half.
Kentucky began to take advantage of their size, and muscled their way back into the game. Marcus Lee had four put back dunks, and Julius Randle would figure out a way to handle Glenn Robinson III’s quickness. The Wildcats would tie the game at 37 going into the half.
This turned out to be a bad omen for Michigan. Kentucky built on its momentum, and Michigan trailed in the second half for the first time in the tournament.
Kentucky was up the rest of the way, with Michigan playing catch up. The biggest lead for Kentucky was seven points, but Jordan Morgan would help the team come back with a couple of big dunks. Robinson also helped the Wolverines inch closer to a tie, hitting several big three pointers.
None was bigger than Robinson’s shot with Michigan down five in the waning seconds of the game. The sophomore calmly sunk the shot and Michigan got the rebound on the next Kentucky possession.
The next Wolverine possession featured shot attempts from LeVert, Derrick Walton Jr. and Stauskas. It was a mad scramble for the ball, as Michigan kept getting offensive rebounds, and finally the ball settled in the basket after Walton’s miss.
This gave Kentucky the ball with the shot clock turned off. After a foul by Caris LeVert, the Wildcats took the ball out of bounds and got it to Aaron Harrison. He hit a deep three pointer even with LeVert’s outstretched arm almost grazing the ball. The clock showed 2.5 seconds left.
Michigan still had a chance, but it was a small one. Jordan Morgan ran the baseline and was able to get the ball into Stauskas. Any Michigan fan would have been comfortable with the sophomore taking the shot, and it was close. Stauskas could have dribbled a couple more feet, but that’s beside the point. His shot hit about a foot to the right of the basket, harmlessly bouncing off the backboard.
There wouldn’t be a second straight Final Four for Michigan. It was a tough blow, but a second consecutive Elite Eight shows how far John Beilein has brought the Michigan program.
That program is going to change drastically over the offseason, as the Wolverines could lose up to four players.
Jordan Morgan, the senior heart and soul of the team, will be gone. The big man from Detroit had an unbelievable year in the absence of Mitch McGary, guarding men much bigger than himself, and consistently outplaying them.
The sophomore trio of McGary, Robinson, and Stauskas may also leave. Unlike Morgan, it won’t be to graduation, but the NBA draft. Robinson and McGary were threats to leave after last season, but their stock fell this year. Meeting with advisory committees about their pro prospects is the next logical step.
Stauskas has been projected 15th or higher recently, and the Big Ten Player of the Year used the NCAA tournament to showcase his talent. NBA scouts drool over his shooting ability, and Stauskas will have a tough decision to make.
The Wolverines wrap up a season in which they won the Big Ten by three games, were the runner up in the Big Ten Tournament, and made it to the Elite Eight. Not a bad season for a team that started 6-4.