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A tale of two halves for Robinson

Paul Sherman/Daily
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By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 14, 2013

Twenty-nine NBA scouts were on hand to watch the Michigan men’s basketball team take on No. 1 Arizona.

And after a sluggish start to this season, sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III reminded each of them why he was coined a surefire lottery pick had he chosen to declare for last year’s NBA Draft. But just as quickly as he was able to get to the basket in the first half, he faded into irrelevance in the second.

From the game’s onset, Robinson flashed an assertiveness that he’s lacked for much of the season. It was a theme for much of the first half, as he bodied his way to the basket numerous times against one of the nation’s most athletic defenses.

Robinson scored a game-high 16 first-half points, carrying an otherwise balanced Wolverine offense by shooting a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. He also displayed a nice inside-out game, drilling a smooth pull-up jumper from the elbow after his defender respected his ability to drive and connecting on two 3-pointers, including a step-back shot with just a few ticks left in the first stanza that sent Michigan into the locker room with a 37-28 lead.

“We know he can shoot the ball, we know he can attack the basket and today, he definitely showed that,” said sophomore guard Nik Stauskas.

It was the type of half that Michigan fans had been waiting to see since the forward decided to return to campus after a promising freshman campaign.

Arizona coach Sean Miller, who called Robinson’s first-half play “incredible,” took note, saying that the Wildcats “talked a lot about him at halftime.”

So Miller’s second-half gameplan keyed in on the sophomore. He assigned Aaron Gordon, Arizona’s own athletic forward, the duty of defending Robinson.

Michigan coach John Beilein wasn’t ready to concede that the Wildcats’ defensive tactics slowed Robinson, or the team, down. As Beilein pointed out, the Wolverines still shot an impressive 47.6 percent from the field in the second stanza, just a hair below their first-half mark.

“We didn’t do anything really differently than we did in the first half,” Beilein said. “We were just looking where the gaps were where we could get the right things.”

Robinson added that “nothing really” changed in the way Arizona defended him, but that he “just didn’t get as many open shots.”

“I just got to the rim (and) tried to stay aggressive like I keep talking about,” Robinson said.

But after his perfect first-half shooting numbers, Robinson attempted just two field goals after the break, and neither was a particularly encouraging look. Midway through the half, he slammed down a thunderous alley-oop, but the baseline was only open because Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski was still on the other end of the floor after rolling his ankle. Robinson’s only other look was a deep, contested miss. He added two free throws to pull his scoring total up to 20 — still a game high.

But absent were any of the quality looks he created for himself by attacking or that the team created for him by feeding him the ball inside the arc in spots that he could work with.

“That’s just the way the game goes sometimes,” said redshirt junior forward Jon Horford. “Someone’s really hot, they put more of an emphasis on him, stopping him, being in the gaps, guarding him tighter, all those things.”

Both Stauskas and sophomore guard Caris LeVert asserted themselves in the second half. After each was held to five first-half points, Stauskas finished with 14 and LeVert with 15. Stauskas said that perhaps the space they found in the lane could be credited to the attention Arizona gave Robinson out of the break.

No matter the reason, Michigan lost again — for the fourth time this non-conference season, after a perfect slate last year — and Robinson came away appearing frustrated, searching for answers.

But even though Saturday’s second-half mediocrity was nothing new this year, Robinson’s first-half emergence flashed extraordinary potential. To NBA scouts, that’s sometimes all that matters.