Jan. 23, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
On Tuesday (Jan. 21), the day before the University of Michigan men's basketball team was scheduled to face No. 10 Iowa in a key Big Ten Conference matchup, head coach John Beilein received a call that the team's starting point guard, freshman Derrick Walton Jr., was ill with a temperature and flu-like symptoms.
"He went to see his doctor and we just kept him away from everybody all day," Beilein said. "He didn't even come to practice to see the game plan."
Walton felt healthier on Wednesday, even entering the game against Iowa for three minutes, but someone would have to step up and take his place as Michigan's floor general for the night.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht -- making his first career start in the 75-67 win over the Hawkeyes -- is no stranger to stepping up for his team.
Last season, Albrecht became a household name after scoring 17 points in the NCAA title game against Louisville while spelling starting point guard Trey Burke. Against Iowa, Albrecht was able to prove once again that he is capable of leading the Wolverines when they need it most.
"For me it's not different at all," Albrecht said of starting his first game with Michigan. "When I'm out there I'm out there and I play hard and do what I do. We as a team have a next man up mentality -- you've got to take care of guys when they're out; you've got to step up and help them out."
Albrecht supplied seven points in Wednesday's win, yet his greatest contribution was in the details of the game that can sometimes slip by unnoticed. The sophomore led quietly by finding his teammates, handing out a career-best seven assists with no turnovers.
"He just came in and did the little things," said co-captain Jordan Morgan. "Seven assists, zero turnovers -- that's big for us. He's a fighter and we knew he would step up and be great. He made some really good passes and guys made shots."
Making smart passes was important when facing Iowa's zone defense, which at times frustrated the Wolverines.
"I think in parts of that game we took their best shot when they used their length inside and confused us defensively by running a man, zone, switching in the middle of possessions and really made our guys think," said Beilein.
The key to beating the zone, according to Albrecht, was in finding a way to get inside.
"They had a lot of length, but, especially inside the zone, you've got to get two feet in the paint," he said. "You've got to stay aggressive. Lots of times when teams are in a zone they want to keep you on the outside shooting three pointers. But you can't settle in. You've got to get to the hole and create for others."
Creating for others is exactly what Albrecht did for his teammates, including a critical pass at the end of the game.
With 3:45 left in the contest, Albrecht stole the ball and sophomore teammate Glenn Robinson III passed it to freshman Zak Irvin for a three-pointer to put Michigan ahead 67-60. Yet over the course of the next minute, Michigan's lead diminished as Iowa's zone left the Wolverines scoreless.
With just 2:32 to go, Iowa had narrowed the score to 67-64 -- a one possession game. It looked as though Michigan, whose lead looked secure moments earlier, might be on course for another Big Ten matchup going down to the wire.
A pass by Albrecht to Robinson in the post for a layup extended Michigan's lead back to five, virtually sealing the win for the Wolverines.
"The biggest assist of the game was over the top when their zone had us confused," said Beilein. "Over the top to Glenn (Robinson III) was one of the bigger plays this year."
While Albrecht's assists were a key aspect of his performance, his ability to find teammates was not his only display of smart, detail-oriented play. The sophomore also recorded four steals on the night, a feat which was accomplished, in part, due to his knowledge of Iowa's game. As one of the highest scoring teams in the country, Iowa likes to push the ball in transition. Albrecht was able to use this to his advantage on Wednesday night.
Albrecht's highlight steal came at the 14:06 minute mark of the second half, just after Robinson put Crisler Center on its feet with a dunk to put the Wolverines up 52-43. Almost before the crowd registered that play had resumed, Iowa's Gabriel Olaseni attempted to inbound the ball, but Albrecht got ahold of the pass, turning it into easy points for the Wolverines. Iowa called timeout, and Michigan's home crowd roared as loud as it has all season.
"They were doing some long outlet passes, trying to get out in transition," said Albrecht. "I've seen a lot on film that they try to kick it out really fast. I was hanging around and I just jumped it."
In addition to his seven points, seven assists, and four steals, Albrecht also recorded a career-high three rebounds. While that number may seem small at first, it was a big contribution from the 5-11 guard against a team with great length.
The Hawkeyes rank seventh in the nation in rebounding margin, outrebounding their opponents by an average of 9.8 rebounds per game. On Wednesday, Iowa outrebounded Michigan by just one rebound -- 33 to 32. By rebounding well, the Wolverines limited Iowa's chances to score. They also created opportunities of their own with 10 offensive rebounds, the same number the Hawkeyes recorded on the night.
"That was my greatest fear," said Beilein, "that it was going to be another Arizona 17-rebound game that you just can't recover from. We did a great job of playing one-on-one in the post. Not ball-staring in the post, but staying locked in on the rebounder. When the post missed, we were locked into our guys. Rebounding is not exactly a science because the ball just goes at a different angle. The 50-50 balls were what we really wanted to concentrate on today."
In order to stay on pace with Iowa's rebounding, the Wolverines had to rely on contributions from all of their players.
"I think the best part was our guys were blocking out and guards were getting rebounds, which is what we needed," said Albrecht.
While Robinson led the way for Michigan on the boards with nine rebounds (four offensive), Michigan's guards, including Albrecht, chipped in 12 rebounds of their own to keep the Hawkeyes at bay.
Throughout the beginning of the Big Ten season, Beilein has stressed that the small details of a game can have a tremendous effect on its outcome. Albrecht took this message to heart on Wednesday. He may have stepped up for his team in less glamorous fashion than his 17 points in Atlanta, but nevertheless, the sophomore guard's smart play -- while grounded in the "little things" -- resulted in a big win for the Maize and Blue.
Game Recap: Michigan Shocks No. 10 Hawkeyes for Eighth Straight Win
Join the season ticket interest list for priority access to 2014-15 Michigan men's basketball tickets.
Sign up for Michigan Insider to be the first to learn about 2014-15 Michigan men's basketball ticket opportunities.