It was bound to happen.
A 6-foot-11 5-star with the ability to guard any position wasn’t just going to stay quiet.
Practically anyone who’s watched Moussa Diabate this season and observed the extreme athleticism that resonates in his every move knew it wasn’t if, but when he was going to break out.
Late Friday night against UNLV in Las Vegas, Diabate decided it was time.
“We’ve seen it in practice, it’s just good to see it out in the game,” fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks said. “ … We knew he was going to have a breakout game, it was just a matter of time.”
The freshman big man made his opening statement by snatching the ball on a deflected pass, proceeding to run down the court and thunderously slam it down before flexing in front of everyone in the building.
Diabate had made himself known to the crowd, but his performance was far from over. The next time he found himself with the ball, Diabate showed the finesse in his game, finishing with touch at the rim. On the very next possession, the French-born talent bodied up in the paint to score an impressive jump-hook, reminding everyone of his sheer size and skill.
Every time Diabate steps on the court, there’s a chance at a ‘wow’ moment, but his performance against the Rebels was different. While it was still speckled with the glamourous, get-up-out-of-your-seat plays that seem to be the headliner of his game, Diabate’s contributions were more than that. He made plays when the team needed it.
Arguably the most important of which came from his plays off the glass. Diabate hauled in a total of seven rebounds, but the most impressive part is that four of them came on the offensive side. With those offensive boards, Diabate was able to give Michigan chance after chance to put the game away late in the second half.
Diabate also flashed his defensive capabilities, something he visibly struggled with in Tuesday’s loss to Seton Hall. The highly-touted defenseman was often over-committing on switches and failing to adjust to different offensive plays, which ultimately led to multiple open-look shots.
Against UNLV, it was different. Though Diabate did not completely mend his defensive adjustment woes, he showed improvement and made big plays when they were needed. One of which came on a gym-shaking block that demonstrated just how large a reach Diabate really has. His lengthy arm swung down to smite Rebels star Bryce Hamilton’s layup attempt with the force of a hammer, a play that almost nobody in college basketball could have made other than Diabate.
As a culmination of his improved production on both sides of the ball, Diabate was given more playing time on the floor. His 21 minutes tonight bested his season-high of 16 set in the first game of the season. The more notable thing about his minutes, though, was when they came in the game. Michigan coach Juwan Howard trusted Diabate with late-game minutes for the first time this season, something that, going forward, will be crucial to Michigan’s overall success as a team.
“Each and every game he’s getting better and better with his confidence as well as getting adjusted to the style of what is being asked of him and his role,” Howard said.
Though not every part of Diabate’s game was fixed in one night — going just 2-for-6 from the free throw line and committing some unnecessary fouls late — it was clear that he improved in almost all other aspects. Totaling 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting, seven rebounds and two blocks, it was clear that the Diabate that showed up Friday night was noticeably different from the one in Ann Arbor just three days prior.
“I’m definitely getting used to (the college pace),” Diabate said. “And as time goes, I’m going to keep getting better.”
For the sake of the team’s success, the Wolverines need Diabate’s performance in Vegas not to just stay in Vegas.