By Neal Rothschild, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 22, 2014
With Nik Stauskas going this well, the Michigan men’s basketball team may as well ride him as far as they can.
The sophomore guard took over the game yet again against a top-10 Big Ten opponent, this time in a 75-67 victory over No. 10 Iowa Wednesday night.
“He just has an ability right now that’s very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “I love the way he’s grown.”
Stauskas tied a career-high with 26 points on 57-percent shooting, attacking off the dribble when Iowa played him close and letting off a quick-release jumper when he had enough space for a 3-pointer.
“My confidence has been on another level since the beginning of the season,” Stauskas said. “But just with the games I’ve been playing, the success that we’ve been having recently, that confidence is growing and growing.”
When he put the ball on the floor, he’d alternate between finishing an acrobatic layup and leaving it off for a big man to finish the play.
“He’s just got this moxie on the court that he feels the game so well around him,” Beilein said.
The Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten, 14-4 overall) seized the lead with seven minutes left in the first half, and until the latter part of the second frame, it was smooth sailing. Like Michigan’s previous game, a win over then-No. 3 Wisconsin, things headed south after it built up a double-digit deficit.
But similar to Saturday’s victory, a big 3-pointer stymied the comeback attempt, and Michigan was able to pick up another marquee win.
This time it was freshman guard Zak Irvin who drilled home the decisive basket to advance the lead to seven. Standing in the left corner, he received the pass from sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III and made the 3-pointer to put the fast-charging Hawkeyes (4-2, 15-4) at arm’s length.
“Just hearing my teammates say ‘Shoot the ball when you get it in the game,’ ” Irvin said. “It’s what I do. I have a lot of confidence going into the game. I think it’s more developed as the season’s gone on.”
Aaron White scored 14 consecutive points for Iowa down the stretch as the Wolverine lead was narrowed to three at one point. With Stauskas guarding the 6-foot-9 forward, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery used the opportunity to exploit the three-inch height advantage to score, as well as wear Stauskas out so he’d be less effective offensively.
“He got his third (foul),” McCaffery said. “We’re gonna go at him for that reason. But also, Aaron’s six-nine. It’s a tough cover for Aaron White on the perimeter with all the dribble moves that Stauskas gives you, but he’s gotta go down and play a game in the post. Aaron’s long and talented — tough cover for him.”
An electric 7-0 run early in the second half gave Michigan its first double-digit lead of the game, one that would decrease, but never disappear. Slick ball movement from the Wolverines gave Stauskas an opportunity in the corner, and he drilled the 3-pointer, extending Michigan’s four-point lead to seven.
The next possession, Robinson took his defender off the dribble, glided through the paint and slammed home a dunk. On the ensuing inbounds pass, sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht intercepted the ball from Gabriel Olaseni and rattled home a short jumper. The run moved the game from a toss-up, to a contest steadily in Michigan’s favor.
Albrecht got the starting nod Wednesday with freshman Derrick Walton befallen with illness. A team spokesman said Walton would be able to play before the game, but he ultimately saw three minutes.
Albrecht distributed the ball well, coupling seven assists with his seven points. Robinson carried the burden on the glass with nine rebounds. He toed the foul line to shoot the game’s final free throws, and after drilling both, Michigan found itself still undefeated after venturing into the heart of its Big Ten schedule.
“Big Ten Championship is our first goal that we stated as a team this season,” Stauskas said. “And the fact that we opened up 6-0, that’s all we can ask for.”