Midway through the second half of Michigan’s 70-62 win over Iowa on Saturday, with the game in flux, Iowa’s Jeff Horner stole the ball and took off with only Michigan’s Bernard Robinson to beat. From the outset, it appeared that Horner would have an easy lane to the basket, but the athletic Robinson was able to make up the distance between the two.
Two steps in front of the ball carrier, Robinson turned his body around, forcing Horner to his right and effectively limiting the point guard’s access to the hoop. Robinson then set himself in the lane, arms out in a defensive position, cutting Horner off and forcing him to pull up for a long jumper on the break.
In forcing Horner to take the jumper, Robinson also prevented the Iowa guard from dishing the ball off to guard Chauncey Leslie, who was trailing the play.
“I knew he was going to try and pull up by the way he was looking,” Robinson said. “I just wanted to let him shoot the three instead of letting him get to the basket, but I wanted to get out in front of him and get in position just in case he wanted to drive and maybe try and take a charge or something. I also saw Leslie coming and wanted to box him out to make sure that I got the rebound.”
While the play was just a small victory in the game, it was indicative of the mindset that Robinson has been carrying with him. Previously known as a player that relied on his athleticism, Robinson has been putting himself in position to make plays. This is something that Michigan coach Tommy Amaker has been trying to instill in him.
“I just don’t go out there and play,” Robinson said of the difference between his play this year and in the past. “Not everything is off of instincts, you have to play with a little bit of thought and make the other guy think.”
This new mindset has caused Robinson to become the Wolverines’ best perimeter defender and one of the best defenders in the Big Ten. The junior admits that in previous seasons he wasn’t thinking about what he could do on the defensive end.
Robinson also paced the Wolverines with 21 points and a season-high six assists Saturday, but has not been scoring as much this season. At 12.5 points per game, his scoring average is down from the average from his first two seasons of 13.2 points per game. Instead, Robinson is picking his opportunities better and has been providing crucial buckets for the Wolverines.
With talented and athletic freshmen surrounding Robinson, he no longer feels the need to be a scorer for the Wolverines to win. These complementary players have allowed him to focus on his defense and rebounding.
“When you know that (they can score), you are more willing to kick the ball to them, knowing that they are going to knock down shots,” Robinson said. “They are also so athletic and fast, like myself, that I really enjoy playing with them.”
People in Ann Arbor are not the only ones impressed with Robinson’s improved play this season. Iowa coach Steve Alford said of Robinson: “His defense has improved, and he really gave us a lot of problems. He’s a big, strong guard – he’s left-handed, so he’s different. If he can improve his outside shot, he has the possibility of being a big-time pro.”