Jan. 4, 2014
By Jenny Herstein
Conference game one is in the books as Michigan opened its Big Ten season winning at Minnesota, 63-60 -- its fifth straight win over the Gophers and fifth straight at Williams Arena.
Jon Horford had a career-best night, scoring a career-best 14 points in a career-high 30 minutes. He went 6-for-8 from the field, which were both career bests and tied a career best with two steals. Since making the move to come off the bench two games ago, Horford has shot 66.7 percent (10-for-15) and averaged 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds. He also has back-to-back double-figure scoring games -- (10, Holy Cross) and (14, at Minnesota).
"This is what he's been working so hard for," said U-M head coach John Beilein. "As the game continues to slow down for him, as he continues to build more confidence in what he can do, I think his rebounding, and there was one particular pass that he threw that there are times that he's playing bigger. He's getting more 50-50 basketballs. He's getting to the right spot at the right time. All he needs is minutes and continued minutes, so he can continue to improve as an overall player. This certainly gives him that opportunity."
Freshmen Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. also had an impressive showing in Thursday night's (Jan. 2) contest against the Golden Gophers. Coming off the bench, Irvin went 5-for-8 from the field for a team-best 15 points, while Walton scored all seven of his points in the second with key free throws down the stretch.
"Both (Walton) and Zak (Irvin) had significant minutes through this," said Beilein. "They've had typical freshman outings, and they've had some outings that are much better than typical freshmen. This was one of those."
Over his last three games, Irvin has shot 50.0 percent from long range (11-for-22). Against Minnesota, he went 5-8 from behind the arc. Walton had four assists to just one turnover against the Golden Gophers and made some critical foul shots.
"He's growing, and he's understanding that there are certain angles to our offense that he may not completely understand and angles to defense as well," said Beilein. He's learning those on the fly. We're really blessed that he has such a high IQ. You can't get an A on the first test every time, but his grades are growing every single time."
"He's got to get himself in position for assists," Beilein added, "And sometimes the angles that he drives or the angles that he enters at are keeping him from doing that. He'll see a different defense every day. It's definitely like a quarterback in football. You're a rookie quarterback out there, you're going to see one defense one day and another defense another day. And the reads are so hard. Pretty soon they get to be much different. I expect to see a lot of man-to-man but a different man-to-man than we saw against Minnesota as far as pressure, etc. So he's going to have to flip over and say, okay, this is how we have to do things when people are playing this type of man-to-man."
Sophomore Glenn Robinson III had a game-high four blocks but left the game with an injury. His status for Sunday's game against Northwestern (Jan. 5) is still unknown.
"I can't give you much of an update," said Beilein. "He had rehab all day yesterday. We'll know more tomorrow, but we really don't know right now."
"The other day, we used Zak Irvin in there for most of the game," Beilein added. "But at the same time, Jordan Morgan can play the right-side wing if we need him to as well. I guess those are our only options right now. I guess we're down to eight scholarship players if he cannot play. Our bench gets shorter, but more people get a chance to play."
"It's pretty much the way we've always worked whether we have injuries or not: what's important right now?" Beilein said. "What's important right now is that we get this team ready with the roster that we have. Without Mitch (McGary), and maybe without Glenn. We prepare them the best that we can. If they were both healthy right now, we'd be getting ready for the same situation with them. Who do we have right now who is healthy, and how do we put them in the best situation to win? It's really good, and it doesn't bother me one bit. It's my job to put that puzzle together despite any type of adversity you face. And this time, it's through injury."
With its first conference win behind them, the Wolverines will now host their first Big Ten home contest of the season against Northwestern.
Northwestern comes to Ann Arbor with a 7-7 overall record and a 0-1 Big Ten mark under first-year head coach Chris Collins, who was previously an assistant at Duke for 13 seasons. The Wildcats opened their Big Ten season with a 76-49 loss to No. 4 Wisconsin in Evanston, Ill. They were led by sophomore center Alex Olah, who had 23 points on 10-for-14 shooting. Fifth-year forward Drew Crawford added 10 points and six rebounds.
Northwestern is the lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten averaging 65.4 points per game. Every other Big Ten team is averaging at least 71 points per contest.
The Wildcats are led by Drew Crawford, who leads the team in scoring (15.9) and rebounding (7.7). JerShon Cobb (12.2 ppg) and Tre Demps (10.5 ppg) give the Wildcats three double-figure scorers.
Northwestern's trip to Ann Arbor will be its first conference road game of the season. The Wildcats went 1-2 in non-conference road games.
In spite of their split record, Beilein believes the Wildcats have significant talent.
"I see that as they get going in the Big Ten right here, they've been in virtually every game except the Wisconsin game," said Beilein. "Wisconsin has a way of doing that to us and to just about every other program, it seems. With (Drew) Crawford being back, (Dave) Sobolewski just played so many minutes. They've got some good young talent on the team. Just like we saw with the Minnesota game and every game, every team is going to have to play every minute of every game. Chris Collins is going to be a really good coach. He's a great fit for Northwestern, as well. (Bill) Carmody left him some good players. We're going to have our work cut out for us."
Under Beilein, Michigan is 9-4 against the Wildcats and 4-2 at Crisler Center. Three of those 13 contests have gone into overtime, including back-to-back overtime wins (66-64 at home and 67-55 away) in 2012.
During Sunday's game, Michigan will honor the 40th anniversary of its 1973-74 team and the 50th anniversary of 1963-64 team.