Unfortunately for the Michigan men’s basketball team, a reprieve from Ann Arbor weather was one of few positives that came from their voyage to Los Angeles, as the Wolverines fell, 102-84, against UCLA at Pauley Pavillion on Saturday.
The first half was an encouraging sign for the Wolverines, as they shot 65.5 percent from the field and buried 12 of their 16 3-pointers to keep pace with the Bruins’ potent offense despite entering the matchup averaging just 70 points per game.
Specifically, senior wing Zak Irvin returned to form — leading Michigan with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting after scoring just four points against Texas.
But after starting the second half with the game tied at 50, nearly everything that could have gone wrong for the Wolverines did. Michigan followed up its eye-popping first-half shooting performance by going 10-for-29 from the field, and its defense had no answer for a UCLA offense spearheaded by freshmen Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. As sophomore forward Moritz Wagner described it, “Every time I turned around, the ball was in the net.”
“Against the Power Five teams that we’ve played — we’ve played six of them right now — at the end of halves and the end of games …where we were pretty good end of half, end of games in the first two, it has not been good,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “…We’ve been coming out of a media timeout sometimes, or you were just put in the game, and you’re standing there watching.
“We’ve got to do something to increase our processing speed. With everybody, it’s a little bit different, so we’ve got to rep it out better, we’ve got to talk about it better, we’ve got to coach it better and then they’ve got to do it better.”
Now, the Wolverines are set to kick off a three-game home stand Tuesday against Central Arkansas (1-8) before they begin conference play with a trip to Iowa on Jan. 1.
The matchup against the Bears is part of a familiar trend for Michigan this year.
After losing to South Carolina and Virginia Tech this season, the Wolverines had the opportunity to prevent two-game skids with contests against less prestigious opponents in Mount St. Mary’s and Kennesaw State, respectively.
Michigan delivered victories in both games, and now it has the opportunity to notch its eighth win against Central Arkansas. Realistically, there is no reason it shouldn’t.
Though the Bears have an experienced backcourt led by junior guard Jordan Howard and senior guard Derreck Brooks, they have registered only one win this season — a 81-76 victory against Army.
Central Arkansas opened its season with a 32-point loss to Wisconsin, in which it allowed forward Nigel Hayes and guards Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter to combine for 40 points.
With that in mind, it appears the stage is set for the Wolverines’ three-headed attack of Irvin, Wagner and senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. to have a field day. The trio is averaging 14, 11.8 and 10.5 points per game, respectively, and its unlikely the Bears will be able to limit that production for a full 40 minutes.
That’s not to say Central Arkansas doesn’t have some talent of its own. Howard is leading the Bears in scoring with 17.2 points per game, while Brooks is averaging 15.8 points himself and cleaning up the glass to the tune of a team-high 6.5 rebounds per game.
Still, assuming that Walton and Irvin can handle Central Arkansas’ backcourt on the defensive end, the Bears won’t have many places to look for scoring — Mathieu Kamba, their third-highest scorer, is barely averaging 11 points per game. And given redshirt sophomore DJ Wilson’s emergence this season, it’s hard to imagine Brooks’ rebounding presence will alter the dynamic of a should-be blowout.
But in a young season that has been full of highs and lows, replicating the offensive performance that the Wolverines displayed against UCLA would certainly be a welcome sign of progress.
“We scored 50 points in one half, we scored 53 against Texas in a game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I think what’s really key for us going forward is, where is our consistency?
“We’d rather have guys go 2-for-5 every day … than go for 1-for-6 and then 5-for-6 and then 1-for-6 and then 4-for-6. We want some consistency there, and that’s what we’re trying to establish. We really haven’t had it, and we need that right now.”