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Wolverines look to get back to basics against Purdue

Patrick Barron/Daily
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By Steven Braid, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 23, 2013

The extended break couldn’t have come at a better time for the No. 2 Michigan men’s basketball team.

With seven days to prepare for Thursday’s contest against Purdue (3-2 Big Ten, 10-8 overall), the Wolverines utilized the opportunity to get back to the basics.

“We just took some time to get back to our fundamentals,” said redshirt junior center Jordan Morgan. “Things we might have spent more time on earlier in the season … basic stuff that kind of gets lost in the shuffle of guarding all these offenses that different teams run.”

Sandwiched in between a road swing against two top-15 opponents and a stretch that includes four games in 10 days, the Wolverines (4-1, 17-1) welcomed the layoff with open arms.

“When you have the games during the season, if you play two games a week, it’s really hard to get back to basics because you’re always trying to rest after one game and trying to get ready for the next game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We had to get back to basics.

“There’s scouting reports, and then there’s just the fundamentals. Sometimes you get so much into scouting reports that you’re playing to play instead of playing basketball.”

Michigan will hope to be a much more sound team against the Boilermakers than it was in its previous contest. In the Wolverines’ last outing, an 83-75 victory against Minnesota last week, they were uncharacteristically shaky on defense. They committed 19 total fouls — seven more than they average per game — and allowed the Golden Gophers to knock down 8-of-16 shots from downtown.

Junior swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. will look to continue his hot shooting. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Week tallied 21 points on 7-of-8 shooting, breaking out of a two-game mini-slump in which he connected on just 35 percent of his attempts.

Though Purdue struggled at the beginning of the season, losing six of its first 10 games, the Boilermakers have reignited as of late. Purdue has taken advantage of a weak portion of its schedule and is currently riding a three-game winning streak, coming off a 79-52 win against West Virginia. Led by a staunch defense, Purdue’s effectiveness will hinge on its ability to limit easy scoring opportunities by Michigan’s high-scoring attack.

Purdue center A.J. Hammons, who ranks first in the Big Ten in blocks (2.1) and leads all conference freshmen in rebounds (6.3), anchors one of the best defenses in the conference. The Boilermakers allow just over 60 points a game, hounding opponents into shooting worse than 40 percent from the field. They will have their hands full with the Wolverines, though, who shoot 51 percent from the floor — fourth-best in the nation — and 41 percent from beyond the arc.

“Purdue has played us tough over the years since (I’ve) been here,” Beilein said. “Their defense — they’re physical.”

Purdue will depend heavily on its defense because its offense won’t offer much support. The Boilermakers have struggled shooting the ball from everywhere on the floor thus far this season, connecting on just 42 percent of their field-goal attempts, 32 percent of their 3-pointers, and 63 percent of their free throws. Guard Terone Johnson leads all scorers with 13.3 points per game while also acting as one of the team’s primary playmakers, dishing 3.1 assists a game.

Despite losing to Purdue at home last season on senior night — a game in which Johnson led the Boilermakers with 22 points — the Wolverines are not thinking about the past. Their sole focus is on the future.

“We haven’t really put that much thought into it, it’s more about this game right now and what it does for us now,” Morgan said. “We definitely can’t overlook them because they’re a very good team.”