Michigan second-half defensive struggles stunt late-game comeback

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By Colleen Thomas, Daily Sports Editor
Published April 9, 2013

ATLANTA — What Michigan finally figured out during its NCAA Tournament run seemed to disappear in the final 20 minutes of its season.

The Wolverines held their own against some of the best college basketball players in the country — Nate Wolters, Jeff Withey, Michael Carter-Williams — but couldn’t find an answer to Louisville’s Chane Behanan defensively in the National Championship game.

Down by eight points with less than three minutes to go in the second half and looking to get some stops defensively, Michigan forced Cardinal guard Peyton Siva to take a less-than-ideal 3-pointer, which he missed. Behanan, outmuscling freshman forward Mitch McGary, grabbed the offensive rebound but missed.

Louisville got two more tries until its forward, Gorgui Dieng, committed a foul, sending Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke to the free-throw line. Though Burke cut the lead to six points at the charity stripe, 20 precious seconds had ticked off the clock due to second- and third-chance possessions for the Cardinals.

And on Louisville’s next possession, Behanan did the exact same thing, grabbing two of his own misses before finally making a layup to put Louisville up by eight with less than two minutes to play. That lead, thanks to Behanan’s four offensive rebounds, proved too big for Michigan to overcome.

“It just came down to defense, we should’ve played better defense,” said freshman forward Glenn Robinson III. “We had a stretch that we missed two or three shots in a row, which isn’t good when you’re not getting stops.

“They stepped (the defense) up second half — we kind of lowered it second half. We needed to stay on the glass, they got more offensive rebounds, the game basically flipped.”

In the first half, though, it looked like Michigan had Louisville’s number defensively, shutting down most of the Cardinals’ shooters and dominating the boards. The Wolverines outrebounded Louisville, 17-12, at the half and tallied 13 of their 38 points off of seven offensive rebounds.

Behanan had just one rebound in the first half, but found his rhythm in the second half in the paint. Often times, he’d find himself open down low, as McGary came up to play help-side off of a pick-and-roll, and could lay it in for an easy two points.

But it wasn’t just Behanan left open under the basket. Siva kept attacking Michigan’s defense, driving to the lane and taking easy layups or finding an open basket in transition en route to his 14 second-half points.

In total, Louisville tallied 34 of its 82 points in the paint, 22 of which came in the second stanza.

“I thought we could’ve done a better job hedging their ball screens so they couldn’t split us easily and get to the rim,” Robinson said. “I think that was the biggest thing. We might’ve stepped up and helped a little too much, giving them easy drop-offs and layups.”

But if the Cardinals missed on any of their offensive possessions, Behanan or Dieng were under the basket waiting for the rebound.

Behanan had 11 rebounds, seven offensive, and 11 points in the second half to help Louisville completely dominate the boards. The Cardinals outrebounded the Wolverines, 20-10, and had 22 points in the paint in the second stanza alone. For the game, Louisville had a 32-27 advantage on the boards and won the offensive rebounding battle, 15-8.

Foul trouble didn’t help the Wolverines, either. McGary picked up his fourth foul halfway through the second half, which he said made him play a bit tentatively against Louisville’s big men in the paint.

“They’re relentless down there,” said Michigan redshirt junior Jordan Morgan. “They had two or three guys going after the ball, they’re going after it even after you get the rebound. They were able to get some put-backs, and that helped them take control of the game.”