SALT LAKE CITY — It couldn’t have been clearer last night. Or in any of the Michigan basketball team’s losses this season, for that matter.
The Wolverines need someone not named Manny Harris to step up.
Harris led the team in points (25), rebounds (six) and steals (four). He hit shots from beyond the arc, an area that Michigan has struggled with most this season. And he hardly saw the bench.
But his heroics weren’t enough. The Wolverines (4-4) suffered a very frustrating 68-52 defeat to Utah (5-4) at the Huntsman Center.
“Manny’s played so many minutes, he needs a rest,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “We’re looking for something else off the bench, (something other than what) we’ve been getting.”
In Michigan’s four losses, just one player besides Harris has posted more than 12 points. That was senior forward DeShawn Sims, in the Wolverines’ loss to Alabama on Nov. 29.
Is 13 points from one of his teammates too much to ask? It apparently was, especially on a night where all of Michigan’s weaknesses were exposed.
Rebounding was the most glaring. Utah, thanks in large part to the play of massive 7-foot-3 center David Foster, owned the boards. The Utes outrebounded the Wolverines 41-25, but perhaps most importantly, they collected 10 offensive rebounds in the first half alone. Utah capitalized on its second — and in many cases, third or fourth — chances to build an eight-point lead at the half.
The Utes also exploited another Michigan weakness, its size, rather easily. The Wolverines have played a small lineup for much of the season, but due to the illness of sophomore guard Zack Novak and the size of the Utes’ frontcourt, they were forced to go big last night.
Novak missed the game with a case of gastrointestinal flu. Senior forward DeShawn Sims, who finished the game with 10 points, didn’t talk to the media after the game because he said he didn’t feel well. Beilein said he was concerned Sims may have the same illness as Novak.
With Novak ill, Michigan deviated from the starting lineup it had used through its first seven games, and Beilein started both Sims and senior forward Zack Gibson.
“In the first half, when we played both big guys together, it did not work very well,” Beilein said. “We didn’t know Zack (Novak) wasn’t going to play until (Tuesday) night. We made a few adjustments to playing big going into this game, but we were really out of sync with our defense.”
And that defense — both interior and along the perimeter — couldn’t keep up with the dynamic Utah offense. The Utes penetrated the paint at will, and when they felt a little resistance, they passed the ball out to the 3-point line and a Utah guard launched a three. Many times, that shot would fall — and each time, it felt like a dagger for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s 3-point attempts, on the other hand, clanged off the rim for most of the night.
Excluding Harris’ 3-of-5 night from beyond the arc, the rest of the team shot a miserable 4-of-17 (23.5%). That, coupled with some bobbled passes and lethargic play, provoked Beilein to criticize his guards’ performance.
“Right now, the guard play is not real good, and we just keep working at it, just keep working at it,” he said. “It’s not the biggest evil right now. There (are) a lot of issues right now we need to get better at.”
And that’s precisely what last night’s loss clearly explained. Michigan has struggled defensively, on the boards and with its shooting. But until last night, all of those struggles hadn’t coincided so dramatically.
“It’s frustrating, but the bad thing is we’re 4-4, and the good thing is we’ve got a lot of the season left and we just got to pick it up now,” Harris said.