Three Key Takeaways.
- Michigan Played With Great Confidence. Both Bennet Hayes and I, along with some other media members with whom I spoke before the game, thought Michigan had a real shot today. There was something about the swagger with which the Wolverines had dominated Illinois yesterday that made this seem like a distinct possibility. And early in the game, it appeared to be true. Zak Irvin and Spike Albrecht combined for 18 of Michigan’s first 22 points, each hitting two three-pointers in leading Michigan to an early nine-point lead. Even though Michigan’s shot-making wouldn’t continue at the same rate, the team’s intensity and focus certainly would, which is what kept this quarterfinal competitive throughout.
- Wisconsin Asserted Itself. The Badgers methodically climbed back into the game by clamping down defensively, especially on Albrecht. During a 10-0 Wisconsin run to end the first half, every Wolverines’ shot attempt was well-contested. The only way that Michigan was able to regain a second half lead was by getting out in transition — something Wisconsin uncharacteristically let them do — but as usual, the Badgers’ half-court defense was tough to solve.
- Wisconsin Has Too Many Weapons. While Michigan had one or two players doing things to keep the Wolverines in the game, so many Wisconsin players made plays down the stretch that it was simply too much for Michigan to overcome. Josh Gasser hit a big three; Duje Dukan was awesome off the bench; and Nigel Hayes was a pain in Michigan’s rear end all day long. Then, with about 3:40 to go, there was a single play emblematic of Wisconsin’s victory. Frank Kaminsky missed a shot at the rim, got his own rebound, and then, while falling to the floor, found Gasser on the perimeter. Gasser immediately penetrated, kicked the ball out to Bronson Koenig, who made the extra pass to Sam Dekker as he stepped into and drilled a three. The Badgers were too solid at all five spots on the floor to be beaten by a valiant but short-handed Michigan team today.
Player of the Game. Zak Irvin, Michigan. He was on the losing side of today’s ledger, but Irvin had a tremendous game. He scored 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and was the only Michigan player who stayed in attack mode for all 40 minutes.