In 1987, Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, then the starting point guard for Duke, was named the National Defensive Player of the Year. This year, he has gotten some of that defensive grit to rub off on his team.
The Wolverines have said all year long that one of the keys to their success is good defense. Saturday’s 70-62 win over Iowa was no exception to the rule.
While the Wolverines did give up several open looks from the perimeter at the beginning of the second half, they were able to shut down the Hawkeyes for most of the game. Michigan also defended without making many errors.
This season, Iowa has been able to get to the free throw line more than 26 times a game. These charity points have been a key to the Hawkeyes’ being able to win games this season. But Saturday, Michigan played a clean defensive game, committing just 10 fouls and sending the Hawkeyes to the charity stripe just 12 times.
“You have to give Michigan credit,” Iowa coach Steve Alford said. “If you can defend close to 10 minutes and not commit a foul, I think you are doing something right. Our strength all year was getting to the free throw line, but they kept us out of the bonus in both halves.”
Michigan’s defense has been stout all year with just a few exceptions – see second half of the Illinois and Minnesota games – and that defense has been a key to Michigan’s success.
The ability to go on a run and keep the opposing team from getting out in front rests on the defense. The Wolverines know that scoring is all well and good, but if you can’t stop the other team,, you aren’t going to win.
“Our defense has been solid for us all year long,” Amaker said. “You talk about a team in Iowa that has shot the ball well from the perimeter all year. Today they weren’t able to hit those shots, and our defense was a part of that. Tenacious defense allowed us to get some runs and has been the catalyst for us all year to pull out the tight games.”
Freshman Lester Abram has proven himself to be one of the team’s top defenders this season, and his skills were on full display Saturday. In the second half, Abram limited Iowa’s Brody Boyd to just three points, this coming after Boyd had ignited for nine in the first half. The ability of Abram and the rest of the Michigan team to stay the sharp shooter’s hot hand was instrumental in the win.
“While I was on him, I tried to deny him the ball and when he got the ball I tried to put a hand in his face,” Abram said. “I’m 6-6 and he’s 5-11 so I knew my wingspan would bother him a little bit.”
One of the key’s to Abram’s success was studying film on Boyd before the game. Abram was able to fight through or work around the various screens Iowa tried to set for Boyd.
“I saw in the tape before the game that they set a lot of screens for him, and he fakes one way and goes the other way around the screen. I didn’t go for the fakes so that’s why I was able to stay with him.”