By Daniel Wasserman, Daily Sports Editor
Published December 14, 2011
Until Tuesday night, junior guard Matt Vogrich was a shooter who was having a lot of trouble shooting.
He had opportunities, but in 95 minutes of action prior to the Arkansas Pine-Bluff game, Vogrich had connected on only one 3-point basket, good for an 8.3 percent mark from long range.
So what’s a shooter to do when he can’t find the bottom of the net?
“When the shot’s not falling, I’m trying to do other things — whatever I can do,” Vogrich said. “I’m known primarily as a shooter, but getting to the glass is something that I did a lot in high school and I feel that I can do that.”
Midway through the first half, he did just that, collecting a rebound for an easy put-back. Apparently, that’s all he needed to get started.
Just three minutes into the second half, he connected on an open 3-pointer — his first since Nov. 17. Less than 90 seconds later, he came up with a steal that led to another 3-point make. In less than two minutes, he tripled his 3-point field goals, propelling Michigan to a 63-51 win over the Golden Lions.
The Lake Forest, Ill. native connected on another 3-pointer later in the half, giving him 11 points — surpassing his previous season-high point total of four.
“About time,” Vogrich said, smiling. “It was tough. I worked a lot on my shot in the summer, shot the ball well the last two years and then to start off the year like that, it was tough to see. But you’ve got to keep your head up, got to keep shooting.”
Vogrich said he’s never gone through a shooting slump like this. It wasn’t a mechanical issue in his shot. Freshman point guard Trey Burke and sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz both called Vogrich the team’s best shooter, reiterating that he rarely misses in practice, even during his slump.
But Michigan coach John Beilein — whose offense relies on the long ball — has seen his share of prolific shooters go through dry spells. So the Beilein instructed his guard to take an extra 500 3-pointers during practice in the past week, in addition to the team’s routine drills.
“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Beilein said. “I think he needed it more than I did, because I can say what I want, ‘Keep shooting, keep shooting,’ but it was good for him to go out and it really helped us in this game.”
Beilein was quick to point out that Vogrich needed to do more than just restore confidence in his shot. Vogrich’s role in coming off the bench can be a difficult one because there’s less opportunity to find a rhythm, knowing that you’ll soon be replaced by the starter.
The rotation is especially hard for a slumping shooter already pressing to make shots. But when sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. went down with an injury late in the first half, the door opened for Vogrich to play more loosely and not have to look over his shoulder to find Hardaway checking back into the game.
In fact, Vogrich’s first 3-point attempt was swatted into the stands by a defender. But instead of getting discouraged, he connected on his next three shots.
“Not that I like Tim’s injury, but it allowed him to get in there and just feel like, ‘Hey, I’m not going to come out for a little bit here,’ ” Beilein said.
NO HARDWOOD FOR HORFORD: Sophomore forward Jon Horford was held out of the Wolverines’ win due to a stress injury to his right foot.
Prior to the game, the severity of Horford’s injury to his fifth metatarsal — the long bone that extends throughout the length of the foot, leading up to the pinky toe — was a mystery. Beilein revealed the injury after Horford played 10 minutes in a win over Iowa State last week.
Horford’s participation in practice was subsequently limited, but he played 11 minutes in Saturday’s win over Oakland. He seemed to run the floor well and didn’t appear to favor his left leg.
Beilein explained that if not treated properly — mainly through rest — the stress can easily turn into a fracture. With Big Ten play looming, and the important post presence Horford provides, Beilein doesn’t want to risk further injury.
“We dressed him (Tuesday) in the event that we had, God forbid, three ankle sprains and foul trouble,” Beilein said. “He is cleared to practice at times, but we didn’t practice him the other day, so now he’s shut.
“I didn’t have a plan for him to be in there unless of an emergency situation because we’re trying to let the foot heal 100 percent. A little action doesn’t bother it, so if we need five minutes from him, we were going to use him, but it had to be an emergency.”
Horford will have his foot reexamined prior to next week’s game against Bradley. If he’s cleared to play, Beilein said he’ll be “full go,” but admitted that it’s possible that Horford may be sidelined until conference play begins on Dec. 29 as a precaution.
SMOT STAYS HOT: After sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz scored a career-high 20 points against the Golden Grizzlies in what Beilein called the sophomore’s best collegiate game, he followed it up with another stellar performance on Tuesday.
Smotrycz connected on 3-of-4 3-pointers and was perfect from the free-throw line to lead Michigan with 16 points.
The Reading, Mass. product is shooting 77.8 percent from beyond the arc in the past two games. With his inside-outside threat clicking, Smotrycz has been a matchup nightmare.
“I’ve been getting open shots and guys have been finding me, so I guess I’m in a little bit of a groove,” Smotrycz said.
He laughed before pulling a chair from underneath a nearby table.
“Knock on wood,” he said, and knocked twice.