LAHAINA, Hawaii — For the longest time, UCLA hung around like a pesky housefly, refusing to let Michigan pull away.
Then, Tim Hardaway Jr. decided he’d had enough. After scoring all 19 of his points in the second half in Tuesday’s loss to Duke, the sophomore guard was aces again after halftime on Wednesday. Hardaway Jr. paced a 15-4 Michigan run in the second period, leading the Wolverines to a 79-63 win over the Bruins and a third-place finish in the Maui Invitational.
With 10:37 left in the game, Hardaway Jr. saw an opening, drove the lane and finished with an emphatic one-handed slam to give the Wolverines a 10-point lead. Two minutes later, his 3-pointer from well beyond the arc made it 63-47 Michigan. UCLA never threatened from there, and the Wolverines were able to close out a relentless Bruin team that finally ran out of gas.
“This was a hard team to play, because they shoot it so well,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland. “They have so many little nuances to their offense, and they were able to take advantage of that. … They came down and made some big shots.
“Hardaway (Jr.), I thought, really started to take over. I thought he really started to play well that last stanza.”
UCLA was persistent from the get-go. It had to be.
Early on, it appeared that Michigan was going to run the Bruins right off the island. Despite playing two hard-fought games in two straight days, the Wolverines roared out of the gates, taking advantage of sloppy play from their opponent.
The Bruins turned the ball over on its first two possessions and, other than forward Travis Wear, couldn’t get anything going offensively, missing plenty of shots. Michigan capitalized by going on a 13-0 run and took the early 19-8 lead, spurred by Hardaway Jr.’s aggressive play.
“I sensed the guys were really fresh for this game,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Even after the three games … we played with a lot of energy to start. … It’s no different than (trying) to win a Big Ten Tournament, or a championship tournament.
“They responded very well.”
But the Bruins refused to go away, and center Joshua Smith led the charge. Smith didn’t even start the game — based on his body, the issue was conditioning, and Howland said as much after the game — but the Wolverines had no answer for him down low.
Smith scored six points over the helpless forward pair of redshirt sophomore Jordan Morgan and sophomore Jon Horford. And when he wasn’t scoring he was getting rebounds, giving UCLA second-chance opportunities. Smith could only manage 19 minutes, but scored 12 points and pulled down five rebounds in his limited time.
But with Hardaway Jr. — who finished with 20 points — stifled the rest of the half, Horford himself took over for the Wolverines. The Grand Ledge, Mich. native had 12 points and seven rebounds in the half — already career highs — showing a presence in the low post he hadn’t yet in his career (except when having to deal with Smith). Horford finished with those same totals.
“When you front Josh Smith, it’s another zip code to get on the other side of him,” Beilein said. “You’ve got to really work.”
Added Horford: “I just went in and felt good. I just did what I had to do. … It’s kind of hard guarding a big fella, but (I) just had to do it.”
But the Wolverines got hot from outside and took firm control as the second half wore on. Late in the game, the Bruins started rushing their shots in a desperate comeback attempt. But with time running out, they couldn’t make nearly enough of them — especially with Michigan staying hot on its end.
Sophomore forward Evan Smotrycz made a 3-pointer and a short jumper in succession, giving the Michigan a 72-53 lead and putting UCLA away for good with 4:06 remaining.
And senior guard Zack Novak followed with a 3-pointer of his own a minute and a half later, part of his career-high 22 points. The Wolverines went 29-for-47 from the field for the game and were 7-of-14 from deep — for its part, UCLA shot just 41.8 percent.
“I liked, for the most part, how we competed in the bright lights,” Beilein said. “It doesn’t get any brighter than (Maui) this time of the year. That’s big for us. You don’t know how people are going to do … (but) I really liked what we saw.”