Derrick Walton returns to form in Michigan's victory

Jim Spadafore
Special to The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Derrick Walton Jr. has been hampered with a nagging toe injury for much of the season. But the sophomore point guard from Detroit is looking more like himself lately.

Walton played 35 minutes and finished with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists in leading Michigan to a 62-57 victory Saturday over Minnesota at the Crisler Center.

Walton made 4-of-7 shots, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.

Michigan coach John Beilein was impressed.

"That is the Derrick I remember," Beilein said. "Derrick came to us as a pass-first point guard. We had to change that.

"Derrick is not 100 percent but he's playing more like the Derrick of old."

Walton, who is averaging 10.6 points, 3.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds this season, wouldn't use the toe injury as an excuse, but said he's starting to feel better.

He said the team suffered a confidence setback when the Wolverines lost at home to New Jersey Institute of Technology, but now things are improving.

"We're getting our confidence back," Walton said. "We're a young team and it has taken some time but we're getting back to where we should be."

Walton was part of the key play of the game when he threw an alley-oop to Ricky Doyle for a dunk with 27.8 seconds left to give U-M a 59-55 lead.

New uniforms

Michigan wore an Adidas throwback uniform in honor of the 1989 Michigan national championship team. The uniforms were mostly white but the knee-length shorts had a four- to five-inch blue stripe down both sides of the leg with a block M on each. This will be the only time they'll wear the uniform.

"They were pretty nice," Beilein said. "The players asked me if they could keep them."

Comeback wins

The Wolverines rallied from an 11-point deficit to win at home against Illinois, 73-65 in overtime on Dec. 30, and rallied from nine points down in the last eight minutes Saturday to beat the Gophers.

Comebacks were not the case when they lost earlier at home to NJIT, Eastern Michigan and SMU.

"We went through a tough spell there but we had to stay confident," said sophomore guard Zak Irvin, who had 12 points and four rebounds against the Gophers. "We came back today and won. We've been there before when we came back to beat Illinois."

Coach's concerns

The Wolverines struggled with their shooting, missing 14-of-18 3-point shots. Overall, they shot just 40.4 percent (21-of-52) overall. But they did make 16-of-20 free throws to Minnesota's 11-of-20.

"I'm concerned about our fast break," Beilein said. "We've got to do better with our offense."

Growing pains

Michigan is young with seven of its top 10 players freshmen or sophomores. This inexperience will show periodically, according to Beilein.

"I think we're going to shoot ourselves in the foot a lot this season," said Beilein, whose Wolverines are 10-6 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten. "But we will learn from this and we'll get better."

Home cooking

Following Tuesday's game at Ohio State, the Wolverines play three of their next four games at home (Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska) with the road game Jan. 20 at Rutgers. Michigan plays at Michigan State on Feb. 1.

Jim Spadafore is a freelance writer.