Feb. 16, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan returns to Crisler Center on Sunday afternoon (Feb. 15) coming off a 70-60 win against Ohio State. The Wolverines secured their first win in Columbus in 11 years and improved to 18-6 overall and 10-2 in the Big Ten, placing them atop the Big Ten standings.
Nik Stauskas, who has struggled in recent games to score against the opponent's top defender, recorded 15 points while being guarded by one of the nation's best defensive players, Aaron Craft.
"He (Aaron Craft) sets a tone defensively like I've never seen," said head coach John Beilein. "Going into that game and hitting that first shot against him was really big for him (Stauskas), because he can do that. He's played against really good defenders this year, and he's been able to get his own shot and make it. He can't doubt himself. I would say Nik's got a lot of swag. And he can't lose that no matter what. You score a few baskets with Aaron Craft in your face; that certainly adds to your swag, for sure."
Beilein says that the key for Stauskas is to continue to be aggressive, even when some of his shots do not fall.
"He can do this; you've just got to keep prompting him to be aggressive offensively," Beilein said. "He needs to be aggressive. He is a heck of a shooter, and he's got to have this mentality: it can't be a perfect night; I'm not going to make every shot, but I'm not going to make any if I don't take them."
While Stauskas is a focal point for both opponents and fans alike, Michigan's balanced scoring has been the story of its success so far.
"There are scenarios when we have 44-percent (shooters) out there at one time," said Beilein. "That's not fun to guard. So that really helps us."
Among Michigan's guards, freshman Derrick Walton Jr. showcased his improvement over the season.
"When you see this bubble -- when you see an opening at the basket -- you see nobody's in the arc, you've just got to make a play," said Beilein of a point guard's job. "He's got to find those bubbles and then, at the same time, he has to be able to make a sound play out of it."
Against OSU, Walton had a double-double with 13 points and a career-high 10 rebounds while dishing out a game-high six assists.
Next up for the Wolverines is a rematch against Wisconsin. Michigan defeated the Badgers, 77-70, at the Kohl Center earlier this season, marking just the second time the team has won at that venue.
Yet U-M leader Jon Horford warns that the Wolverines must be careful not to become a victim of their own success against the Badgers.
"The second time in a season it can be beneficial, or it could be something that's negative. When it's a game you've already won in your mind (you think) 'oh, we've already beat these guys. We've got this.' That kind of mindset can set you up for failure. In the Big Ten, everybody's good. Anybody can win on any night. We have to go into this game not thinking that way. We have to treat it like a must-win situation."
Michigan's victory on Jan. 18 snapped an 11-game losing streak in Madison, a span of 15 years. Overall, U-M has a 91-66 all-time mark against Wisconsin with a 55-21 home record. However, Michigan has won just three of the last eight meetings in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines claimed a 59-41 decision last year at Crisler Center.
In addition to the game against Wisconsin, this week is special for one of Michigan's former basketball players. U-M legend Gary Grant (1985-88) was inducted into the prestigious U-M Athletics Hall of Honor on Saturday (Feb. 15). In addition to Grant, women's track and cross country national champion Katie McGregor (1996-99) and football lineman Mark Messner (1985-88) were enshrined.
Sunday's action tips off at 1 p.m. on CBS.