There was a stretch during the first half of yesterday”s 79-71 loss to Nike Elite in which Michigan basketball looked, defensively, exactly like the kind of team coach Tommy Amaker has been talking about for over a month. They were smart, fast, aggressive and commanding for about five minutes. The rest of that first half was a disaster, as the Wolverines allowed Nike Elite to mount a 14-point halftime lead.
“We showed two different halves of a basketball game,” Amaker said. “I thought our defense wasn”t what we needed it to be our transition defense really hurt us. And I thought they did a great job of capitalizing at times when we didn”t rotate back.”
Michigan did put together a stronger second half, as sophomore guard Bernard Robinson (who was kept out of last weekend”s exhibition for disciplinary reasons) and freshman forward Chuck Bailey led the way offensively. Bailey”s nine rebounds led the team. The Wolverines improved their shooting percentage in the second half to 43.2-percent, up from a dismal 35.1 percent in the first half.
But after tying the game with under five minutes to play, Nike Elite guards Ted Dupay (who would be starting for Billy Donovan”s Florida Gators” if not for his gambling infractions) and Curt Smith took over. The two combined for Nike Elite”s final 11 points as Michigan stumbled in the final minutes, missing key shots and sloppily handling the ball.
But when the game was over, the defensive failures of the first half were what lingered in the minds of the Wolverines.
“I don”t think we had the same defensive intensity as we had in the first (exhibition) game,” Robinson said. “That”s something that Coach was stressing all week, so that”s something we have to work on.”
Amaker saw his team”s inability to recover after missed shots and turnovers as the primary defensive mistake. In the first half, Nike Elite scored 11 points off of Wolverine turnovers, compared to Michigan”s four off of theirs. The point leader for the Elite was forward Rick Hughes (17 in the first half, 26 in the game), who was being guarded by the freshman Bailey.
“He had to guard some pretty experienced guys,” Amaker said of Bailey. “It frustrated him. We need to be more aggressive with attacking the rim or getting offensive rebounds. But I thought Chuck did a nice job for his first start, and playing that many minutes.”
Offensively, the Wolverines were led by 16 points from senior center Chris Young. His post points were a welcomed sight for a team that expects to have trouble producing down low. But the outside shooting was not as promising. The team”s field goal percentage 39.2-percent over the whole game suffered without the sweet jump shot of LaVell Blanchard, who sat out due to continued problems with his ankle.
Leon Jones, Avery Queen, Gavin Groninger and Dommanic Ingerson shot a combined 11-of-42 from the field, and 7-of-24 from behind the three-point line.
“I”m not overly upset or disappointed in our shot selection,” Amaker said. “I”m thinking that we”re going to be able to shoot the ball better than that in the future.”
“When you”ve got a look, shoot it,” Queen said. “That goes for everybody.”
Queen and his teammates all have the go-ahead from Amaker to shoot the three and from outside when open.
“We”re not going to be able to beat people up on the inside so we have to understand who we are, and be able to make shots,” Amaker said.