Ann Arbor — As Michigan gets through its toughest stretch of the season — with four straight ranked teams — the defensive issues are becoming more of a focal point.
For the fifth time in the last seven games, the Wolverines allowed a player to score at least 20 points. Beginning with the Jan. 25 game at Michigan State, individual players have been having their way against the U-M defense.
Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky (25 points and 11 rebounds) was the latest, leading the Badgers to a 75-62 win Sunday at Crisler Center. Kaminsky’s effort followed a string that includes MSU’s Gary Harris (27), Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell (27), Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble (26), and Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross (24).
With Michigan’s offense averaging 72 points in conference games, the problems with the defense have been overshadowed, but it’s becoming more apparent, with more pronounced individual performances.
“We’ve saved ourselves a number of times just because we were playing well offensively,” said Nik Stauskas, who had 11 points — six below his average. “We realize to be Big Ten champions, we’re going to have to rely on our defense; we know shots aren’t always going to drop.
“In a game like today, you really see if we’re struggling offensively and defensively, it’s not going to go well for us.”
The Wolverines had had streaks of allowing opponents to get off to good starts from the field — as Wisconsin did, starting 6-of-7 — and having to match that offensive production.
But U-M didn’t have the offensive punch Sunday, with a season-low 19 points in the first 20 minutes.
“It speaks to the Big Ten. It’s not about they weren’t up for this game or down for that game,” coach John Beilein said. “We’re playing good teams and you have to play well. Sometimes you can’t control that. Sometimes the ball is not going to bounce your way.”
Kaminsky, who had 43 points against North Dakota this season, had a string of six straight Wisconsin points in the post in the first half and another string of seven straight Badgers points in the decisive 10-2 run in the second half.
“(Kaminsky) just played well but credit him,” Beilein said. “Our post defense is our post defense. He made some great moves and finished around the hoop.”
Michigan didn’t have an answer in the paint for Kaminsky and after that run, a three-point deficit had ballooned to 15.
“He was everywhere today hitting jumpers, getting to the basket, posting up, doing everything for them,” Stauskas said. “He played a great game and we have to tip our hat to them.”
Kaminsky had 14 points and four rebounds in the first meeting against Michigan on Jan. 18 but was the main difference this time.
“We didn’t change anything from the first time we played them because we had good answers for them but it was just one-on-one,” Beilein said.
'E' for effort
Michigan didn’t shoot well in the first half, but some players said the lackluster performance was partly due to a lack of effort early.
“It was pretty apparent a couple minutes into the game — but that’s something that everyone goes through and it’s normal and it’s natural and it’s OK,” said junior Jon Horford, who had three points and six rebounds in nine minutes. “But when guys address it, we have to be able to make the change. You have to amp it up and not take it personally and we need to address that immediately.”
The Wolverines have two upperclassmen — Horford and senior Jordan Morgan.
Stauskas said U-M was a bit tentative, which made a first-half deficit difficult to overcome.
“Defensively and offensively there just wasn’t that sense of urgency there. Whether it was rotations on defense or being aggressive on the offensive end and making smart decisions, it just wasn’t there today,” he said. “I’d rather lose today than next week against Michigan State. We have to learn from this one and move on.”