MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s Vincent Grier slid behind the Michigan defense and waited under the basket.
That’s where Minnesota guard Maurice Hargrow found him on a no-look pass from the free throw line. Grier took the pass and finished the lay-up.
Little did Grier and the Williams Arena crowd know that the senior’s basket with 8:30 left in the first half would be his only successful field-goal attempt of the game.
Grier ended the night with four points. He shot 1-for-8 from the floor, including 0-for-2 from behind the arc.
Coming into the game, Grier led the Gophers in scoring, averaging 16 points per game. The Wolverines looked to stop Grier from doing what he does best: drive.
“He’s a very good player,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
“We had different players on him. There was an awareness for No. 15. He’s so good at knifing and slashing. I thought that (playing) some zone allowed us to pack it in a little bit. It didn’t allow him some angles and penetration that he’s so very good at.”
Throughout the game, Michigan switched between a zone and a man-to-man defense. In the zone, the Wolverines limited Grier’s driving ability by collapsing down on him.
When Michigan played man-to-man, junior Lester Abram received the bulk of the responsibility of shadowing the senior to limit his contribution to the Gopher offense.
“Lester was huge for us,” junior Dion Harris said. “He was checking Grier, and he was the reason why Grier struggled offensively.”
Fly like an eagle: Michigan fans have seen it before.
It’s one of the Wolverines’ favorite plays coming out of a timeout.
The alley-oop to junior Brent Petway.
Saturday night, Michigan ran it to perfection. Following the first media timeout, Harris received the inbounds pass and dribbled to the right side of the court. Petway came around the backside of the Minnesota defense and Harris lobbed the ball toward the basket. Petway snatched it out of the air and thunderously dunked it home.
“Coach always gives me that play, so I have to give a lot of (credit) to my coach and my teammates,” Petway said. “They always throw it up there for me when they see that it’s open. When they throw it up there for me, I’m going to do my best not to let it go out-of-bounds. I’m just blessed with a God-given ability to jump high.”
The window washers: All season long, Michigan has kept its opponents off the glass. Coming into Saturday night’s game, the Wolverines allowed opponents an average of just 28 boards per game – best in the Big Ten.
But against Minnesota, Michigan struggled on the boards – especially when it came to grabbing defensive rebounds. The Wolverines frequently failed to box out, and the Golden Gophers grabbed 16 offensive boards and scored 14 second-chance points as a result.
Michigan’s Graham Brown led the Wolverines with just five boards, but Minnesota forward J’son Stamper gave the Wolverines fits. Stamper finished with 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
“We did struggle, but you give them credit,” Amaker said. “That’s one of the things we were so very much concerned with coming here tonight. They’ve been very aggressive and athletic on the backboard, and you can see why we were concerned as coaches, because that’s one of the things they do very well. We were fortunate to do other things to be able to negate that effort.”
Notes: The son of Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders, Ryan Saunders, is a sophomore guard for the Golden Gophers. He played one minute and did not amass any statistics . Michigan’s win put it in a four-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten. Michigan State, Illinois and Iowa are all 3-2 in the conference.