Wolverines encounter trouble at stripe against UCLA
Ann Arbor — The misses continued to pile up for Michigan at an alarming rate.
For a team that has characteristically been reliable at the free-throw line under coach John Beilein, the Wolverines were anything but Saturday at Crisler Center.
Michigan shot a season-low 36.4 percent (8-for-22) on free throws and bricked double-digit attempts for the first time in nearly three years in a 78-69 overtime win over UCLA. It was the most misses for the Wolverines since they shot 14-for-26 against Coppin State on Dec. 22, 2014.
The biggest offender was redshirt sophomore wing Charles Matthews, who finished 2-for-10 and accounted for over half the misses.
Even more concerning was the timing of his misses. When Michigan was climbing out of a 15-point second-half deficit, Matthews clanked two of three free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer, with one just barely grazing the rim.
Then when Michigan had cut it to four in the final two minutes, he had a chance to tie the score. Instead, on back-to-back possessions he missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and split two foul shots to make it a three-point game.
Matthews said he "felt good" at the foul line and added it’s nothing mental or mechanical causing his struggles. Through eight games, he's shooting a team-low 47.7 percent (21-for-44) on free throws.
“In practice it’s been really good,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He’s just got to get used to being in those situations. We just got to continue to put him in those situations. I’ll watch the video and see where it is right now.
“He’s been average, maybe slightly below average. He hasn’t been poor like that going in. We’ll try to just get him to get some reps, but I want to take a look at it with the naked eye and see what I see.”
While Michigan was one free throw from either winning or losing the game in regulation, freshman Eli Brooks came through when it was needed the most, sinking a pair with 11 seconds left to tie the score and send it to overtime.
“I don’t think he made two in a row all year long. He always missed one of them,” Beilein said. “For a freshman to be in that stage late in the game, that was huge for him to just go in and knock them down. It shows a lot about Eli.”
In addition to Matthews, junior center Moritz Wagner misfired on all three of his foul shots, while sophomore guard Zavier Simpson, freshman wing Jordan Poole and grad transfer Jaaron Simmons each missed once.
Saturday marked the second game this season Michigan shot less than 50 percent on free throws, along with the 45.5 percent (5-for-11) it shot at North Carolina on Nov. 29. For the season, the Wolverines are shooting 62.7 percent from the stripe.
“It’s obviously a greater feeling when you make five then you shoot the better the sixth one,” Wagner said. “That’s just something we’ve got to improve. I went 0-for-3. I haven’t done that in a long time. I haven’t missed two in a row in a long time.
“We just got to work on that and don’t take that as just like a little byproduct. It’s very serious stuff, especially when you go 8-for-22. We got to work on that.”
Missing the mark
Fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson wasn’t able to snap out of his recent funk, finishing with a season-low two points on 1-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 on 3-pointers) in 34 minutes.
Over the last four games, Robinson is averaging 3.5 points and shooting 16.7 percent from the field (5-for-30) and 3-point range (4-for-24).
Beilein said he's confident Robinson will eventually shoot his way out his slump.
“I think he’s been through some tough times right now, but as far as shooting he’s been through this before and he’ll get out of it," Beilein said. “He’s really in a tough spot right now. He’s just got to stay positive.”
Michigan was outrebounded 41-30 by UCLA. The Bruins held a commanding 26-10 advantage at halftime before the Wolverines won the battle in the second half, 17-13, and in overtime, 3-2.
Thomas Welsh led UCLA with 10 rebounds, while Matthews finished with a team-high eight for Michigan.
“We got killed in the first half and didn’t in the second,” Wagner said. “That was basically what gave us more possessions. We were playing smarter defensively and holding them off the boards.”
… For the second time in three games, Matthews picked up two fouls in the first half and had to sit for the final 10 minutes before halftime.
“Yeah, I hate it,” Matthews said of sitting due to early foul trouble. “I hate it, but I got to be smarter with it. Coach B is really just teaching me every day. I’ll be on the bench, ‘Coach, come on. I’m good. Come on, let me in.’ He’s not hearing that.”
… UCLA was playing for the first time in six days after wildfires in Southern California canceled its home game against Montana on Wednesday.