Once again, the Michigan men’s basketball team is in need of a bounce back.
Last week, after being trounced by North Carolina, the Wolverines (1-1 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) recuperated with a win over Indiana to regain some positive momentum.
Monday, that semblance of momentum came to a screeching halt. Michigan jumped out to a 20-point lead over Ohio State before watching it evaporate into thin air in an eventual nine-point loss. With the result, the issues that plagued the Wolverines in Chapel Hill resurfaced. They still don’t have a clear answer for their opponent’s best shot. And it still isn’t clear who will step up when they need a basket.
“We did a lot, again, of what we did in the North Carolina game and the LSU game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein after his team’s loss to the Buckeyes. “When things got a little tough, we really had trouble stepping up. So it’s a big area we’ve got to work at. We’ve got to somehow get them to understand the importance (that), at that time, people do embrace that part of the game and get it done.”
Now, the Wolverines will welcome UCLA to Ann Arbor on Saturday. And though the Bruins have played a relatively easy schedule so far, their 7-1 record and status as a marquee program is enough to provide a stout test for Michigan.
UCLA – which was No. 21 in the AP Preseason rankings – is led by guard Aaron Holliday. Holliday is averaging 16.5 points per game and 5.5 assists per game, and the junior is the Bruins’ go-to player.
Beyond Holliday, freshman guard Jaylen Hands has shown himself to be a lethal offensive threat, particularly from beyond the arc. Hands has shot 50 percent from deep, and while it’s a limited sample size, the rookie’s 12.9 points per game have made him a viable weapon.
Despite UCLA’s preseason ranking, it has disappointed slightly so far this season. In the Bruins’ first game, they barely edged out Georgia Tech, were taken to overtime by Central Arkansas and beat a bad Wisconsin team by just three points. On top of that, they have a loss to Creighton, and off-the-court issues led to the suspension of three of their players. It has been a tumultuous start to the season for UCLA to say the least.
Even still, Michigan will have its hands full Saturday. Holliday is one of the best players the Wolverines will face all season, and their current rut won’t make it easier to take on one of the better teams in the country.
Don’t expect Michigan to figure everything out in one game, though. Beilein said Monday that the season would be “a journey” until the younger players grow and the older players step up. But he does take some of the blame for himself. He sees his team’s inability to step up in crunch time as his own shortcoming.
“We just have to continue to toughen up,” Beilein said. “Get some – what does Jim Harbaugh say? Get some steel in our spine when things are tough, and not necessarily look to the coach for the answer. … We didn’t make any of those (big) plays, and that’s my job to make us get better in that.”