March 3, 2013
By Morgan Bailey, U-M Public & Media Relations
When the University of Michigan men's basketball team entered the locker room prior to the game on Sunday afternoon (March 3), there was new warm-up attire waiting for them in each player's locker. The blue half-zip tops with baggy hoods looked similar to the robes that boxers wear before entering the ring. The symbolism was intentional, as the Wolverines were preparing for their battle against in-state rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.
"When we played Michigan State in East Lansing, they were very active with being more physical than us and pushing us around," head coach John Beilein remarked. "Even though we have a young team with young bodies, we have to be physical to play at this level of college basketball."
Senior guard Matt Vogrich also commented on the "battle" mentality of Sunday's game (March 3), "When we went to East Lansing, we felt like they definitely out battled us and played a little harder than we did, and we didn't want that to happen again. We knew that today we were going to battle for 40 minutes, and that's exactly what happened -- we played tough and did whatever we could to get the win."
With 16:28 remaining in the first half of the game, freshman shooting guard Nik Stauskas left the game after receiving a blow to the face by a Spartan elbow. Stauskas, who averages 11.8 points per game and shoots just under 50 percent from three-point range, left the game with a cut over his left eye and was not seen on the floor for the remainder of the game. With Stauskas out, several young Michigan players had to step up to fill his role, and Caris LeVert answered the call.
Prior to Sunday's game (March 3), LeVert averaged 11.4 minutes per game and 2.7 points. Stepping up when the Wolverines needed him most, LeVert played for 30 minutes against the Spartans and contributed eight points to Michigan's 58-57 victory.
"I wasn't sure what exactly happened to Nik," LeVert said, "I just saw him out there and blood was everywhere. As soon as he went down, I knew right away that I was going to have to step up. Nik is a great player who gives us a lot of offense and defense, so I had a big role to step up to today."
"It's the 'next man up' mentality that our team has had the entire season," Vogrich said. "Caris did an unbelievable job filling in for Nik. All of the seniors talk to the underclassmen about pressure situations like that, and they responded well today and did a great job."
Of all games to find himself playing a bigger role, it was one of the most high-pressure situations LeVert has encountered yet this season. With just seconds remaining on the clock in a one-possession game, LeVert had to focus tremendously in order to keep his emotions in check.
"It was really exciting out there," LeVert commented. "Trey (Burke) had a huge stop near the end of the game, and we knew that even with all of the excitement, we needed to come through and get the win. The entire time I was thinking of the scouting report and what my guy likes to do, and it worked out. Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and I got all of our switches correct on defense, and we were able to get the huge stop in the last play."
"We really needed guys to step up tonight," Coach Beilein said. "With Nik going out, we didn't make a three-point basket tonight, and he's one of our better three-point shooters. Missing him, we had to bring our game inside a little more and continue attacking them, and I love the way we did that. We had a lot of freshmen playing a lot of minutes tonight -- when you do that, there's going to be mistakes, but I really loved the way we responded to adversity."
As important as every win is in the season, a victory always feels a little better when it's against a big rival. Even as a freshman, LeVert already appreciates the significance of the Michigan vs. Michigan State rivalry; "This win is huge," LeVert remarked. "When we played in East Lansing, we got beat pretty good. But we came back here and got the big win. This is a great rivalry, and I really look forward to playing in it during the upcoming years."
With the battle against the Spartans ending in a victory, the Wolverines are now 24-5. This record matches the most wins that the Wolverines have had in a season under Beilein, and there are still several games remaining in the season.
The Wolverines will suit up again on Wednesday (March 6) as they travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to face the Purdue Boilermakers.