March 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Michigan adjusts, and Texas bites the dust

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Milwaukee — When they’re on, the Wolverines can hit from anywhere. But that’s not what makes them a dangerous Sweet 16 team again. It’s that they can hit from so many directions, in so many ways.

This was Michigan at its potent best, in synchronized motion, anyone capable of taking the big shot or making the big pass. If the Wolverines shoot like this, and Jordan Morgan keeps supplying this type of spectacular effort, look out.

Michigan turned Texas into a burnt-orange smoldering mess, 79-65, Saturday night, and the Longhorns had to leave a little dazed. They knew Nik Stauskas could shoot, but did they know he could pass like that? They knew Morgan was solid and determined, but did they know he could be so tough?

The Wolverines hit a school Tournament-record 14 3-pointers (on 28 attempts), but don’t simply chalk up a resounding victory to hot shooting. Texas’ strength was supposed to be defense and Michigan turned it inside out, or outside in. Morgan posted his second straight double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds, to nullify the Longhorns’ inside strength, and Stauskas took whatever Texas offered, which was a lot.

The Wolverines came to Milwaukee looking for their offensive rhythm and found it nicely, just as the Tournament bracket is clearing. Michigan faces the winner of tonight’s battle between Tennessee and Mercer on Friday night in Indianapolis, thanks to Mercer’s win over Duke. If the Tournament is all about paths, the Wolverines look fully capable of picking the right path to the basket.

Robinson delivers

So much has centered around Stauskas’ shooting, opponents actually have noticed, and adjusted. The key is, Stauskas has noticed and adjusted, and the result is a more-balanced offense. Stauskas scored 17 points and added a career-high eight assists, while Michigan committed only four turnovers. Morgan had 15 points and Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert each had 14, and five players hit at least two 3-pointers.

“As soon as I put my eyes on the basket or pretend like I’m going to raise up, a lot of people would start running at me,” Stauskas said. “That would leave other guys wide open. So I just tried to be aggressive, and if that’s me getting shots to the basket or shots from the other side, that’s great.”

At times, the Wolverines pretty much got whatever shot they wanted, as John Beilein’s group ran a clinic on Rick Barnes’ defense. They’d turn down open 15-footers for open 22-footers, poking holes in the Longhorns’ zone. When Texas finally decided to chase the cutters through the lane, Michigan adjusted again and pulled away.

When an 18-point lead was whittled to six with eight minutes left, the Wolverines didn’t buckle, and just chose another option. It was Robinson, and if you take a snippet from two games here, take this one. He shot-faked and drove for a tough basket over the big guys to push the lead to 60-52. On the next possession, he took a pass from Stauskas and drilled a 3-pointer, and it was over.

This is precisely what Michigan needs from Robinson, and precisely what he’s trying harder to deliver.

“I wanted the ball,” Robinson said. “They were keying in on Nik, and I hadn’t scored in a while. I figured they were kind of sleeping.”

It’s been suggested Robinson needs to awaken more often in games, but it’s not easy with shooters and passers all around him. Just as Stauskas was obscured last season by Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., players must find their spots.

“Instead of trying to get the ball to Nik for shots, we said, let Nik be the playmaker,” Beilein said. “He’s a very willing passer, which really makes him a special player.”

Morgan shows muscle

Stauskas has developed into one of the team’s best passers, another reason he was the Big Ten Player of the Year. When the offense works like it did Saturday night, it’s scintillating. And when it doesn’t work, because shooting can be fickle, the Wolverines are getting more and more from Morgan, who’s doing a fine job compensating for the loss of Mitch McGary.

Morgan took his matchup with 6-9, 285-pound Cameron Ridley personally, and turned it into a mismatch. The Longhorns did their standard damage on the boards, but Ridley was out of breath quickly and finished with six points and nine rebounds.

“I ain’t got a lot of body fat on me, a lot of weights lifted these last five years,” Morgan said with a smile. “I’m not about to just roll over. That’s the fun part, just showing everybody wrong.”

Before the game, Morgan wore a healthy scowl, and kept telling assistant coach Bacari Alexander he could handle the big fellas. He said it so often, the coaches believed him, and believe in him more now.

“Jordan is the type of guy that’s wired to try to rise to the occasion,” Alexander said. “And he did. I’d take him with me down a dark alley anytime.”

Michigan won this game in the alleys and the lanes, on the line and outside the lines. Beilein and his staff did a masterful job, and after his 700th career victory, Beilein was coaxed into leading the team in “the Victors,” an honor he actually wanted to bestow on Morgan.

There were several candidates on this night, and the strength of this team is its multiple offensive weapons. If the defensive issues continue to be shored up and the Wolverines make opponents pay for blanketing Stauskas, they’ll be difficult to beat. When you’re not known for hitting hard, it certainly helps to hit from a lot of different places.

Bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
Twitter.com/bobwojnowski

Texas center Cameron Ridley, right, tries to stop a drive by Michigan's Jordan Morgan in the first half Saturday night. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News