DES MOINES, Iowa — Zavier Simpson smirked. He extended his right arm and flicked his wrist, a motion instantly recognizable as that of his hook shot.
But this wasn’t on the court, it was in the locker room. And the question the junior guard had been asked wasn’t about the shot. It was about his passing, and how he’d developed that aspect of his game.
It seemed that every shot Montana took — threes, layups, even a fast-break dunk attempt — missed. The Wolverines’ shooting wasn’t particularly potent, either, but their defense clamped down, holding the Grizzlies to 33 percent from the field. Montana (26-9), a No. 15 seed out of the Big Sky Conference that doesn’t start anyone taller than 6-foot-7, had no answer for Michigan’s relentlessness.
Ask anyone and they’ll tell you Livers is trending up going into the NCAA Tournament, due in large part to an uptick in confidence. Developing that has been a process, but now — after two years where he gained a starting role, then lost it, then got it back and lost it again — Livers is hitting a crescendo at just the right time.
The title game made clear that those issues aren’t totally resolved. But there were some improvements, tweaks that came out against lesser competition. And perhaps the road to another March run is taking those tweaks a step further — something the Wolverines have no shortage of motivation to do.
CHICAGO — Isaiah Livers sat barefoot in front of his locker. The normally effervescent sophomore forward had his eyes trained down, his voice quiet as he explained how Michigan overcommitted to the pick-and-roll between Michigan State’s Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman, leaving Matt McQuaid open on the wing.
McQuaid took advantage, scoring 27 points on 8-for-15 shooting and — more importantly — 7-for-13 from three. Those 27 points provided the backbone of the Spartans’ 65-60 win over the Wolverines in the Big Ten Tournament final Sunday to complete the season sweep.
CHICAGO — The whistle came just 28 seconds into the second half.
Then another, and another, and another and another, five Michigan fouls in two minutes.
Iowa is a team known for drawing fouls — something it made known in Iowa City on Feb. 1, where foul trouble spiraled for the Wolverines, who found themselves powerless as Hawkeye fans stormed the court after a 15-point victory.
But the Michigan men’s basketball team wasn’t just close in the sense that, in the last game of the season, it was competing for a conference championship. With three minutes left in the first half, the Wolverines were up 12, the title firmly within their grasp.