‘New things’ every day: UM’s Isaiah Livers flashes potential

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan's Isaiah Livers and the Wolverines celebrate a strong first half during a timeout Saturday against Illinois.

Ann Arbor – Slowly but surely, freshman forward Isaiah Livers is building confidence with each game.

More importantly, he’s building trust with Michigan’s coaching staff.

Following Tuesday’s breakthrough at Iowa, Livers delivered his second straight double-digit scoring performance and provided a much-needed spark off the bench in Saturday’s 79-69 win over Illinois. 

Livers finished with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in 18 minutes, with nine of those points coming during a critical 12-2 run in the first half that helped swing the game in Michigan’s favor.

"Every day we're seeing new things but it was basically like Moe (Wagner’s) freshman year when he got here. There's just so many things going on,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I mean, if you saw some of our practices you would question why we gave (Livers) a scholarship. And then other practices you would say, 'Yeah, we did the right thing.' I have no doubt about that. We did the right thing, but he's coming on.

“His next step will be when he has leverage on somebody he won't go and do a finger roll on the other side. He'll go and dunk it on somebody. That's his next step to get to the foul line and get more rebounds than he's getting. More rebounds, take it right at people and get to the foul line – those are three things that he's working on now. But I'll take what we got (Saturday).”

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During practice, Livers said the focus has been attacking the basket rather than his 3-point shooting, where he’s shot 5-for-6 over the last two games compared to 6-for-21 the first 15 games.

Some of that work is also coming during 15-minute one-on-one sessions with Beilein after practice.

“(Beilein) wants me to be strong in the paint,” Livers said. “He wants me to land on two feet and he loves pivoting. Pivoting with our right foot, I think that's mostly what we've been working on a lot. He wants me to do that a lot more and I'm looking to do a lot more, too.”

Beilein said the win over Illinois provided a glimpse of Livers’ evolving role and compared it to the last season’s situation when former forward D.J. Wilson began to emerge. While there will be times where Beilein will sit starter Duncan Robinson to let Livers play, there will also be instances to play Robinson more at his natural position at the two or three to give Livers more minutes at the four.

It happened in the first half against Illinois due to Charles Matthews’ early foul trouble and led to a stretch where center Moritz Wagner, Livers and Robinson were all on the floor together.

“It provides a different dynamic,” senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “To have Duncan out there, he's a great shooter, and to also have Isaiah, he's athletic and can play defense. Then Moe is special and it opens up a lot things for the guards, as well.”

With a huge week on the horizon, the Wolverines will need Livers to keep building off his recent play as they look to make a statement Tuesday against No. 13 Purdue and Saturday at No. 1 Michigan State.

“If we beat the Purdues and the Michigan States, then I'll probably be a believer that we're OK,” Beilein said. “But right now, we got a lot of things that we just got to get – we got to grow and be a more experienced team physically and mentally of what's next. ... We got a long way to go right now.”