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Abdur-Rahkman has bittersweet conclusion to UM career

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

San Antonio — Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman played his final game at Michigan on Monday night, and the senior wasn’t about to leave anything in the tank.

After the Wolverines got past Florida State in the regional championship game last week and Loyola-Chicago in Saturday’s national semifinal with the 6-foot-4 guard shooting a combined 5-for-20, there was no doubt the team captain needed to pick up his production for Michigan to have a chance against Villanova.

And like he has so many times in his career, Abdur-Rahkman answered the bell, scoring 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting to lead the Wolverines.

It was, however, bittersweet as Villanova got rolling late in the first half and overpowered Michigan for the 79-62 victory, giving the Wildcats their second national championship in three seasons.

“We could have played better,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “But they hit some tough shots and we could have limited the offensive rebounds and we’ll beat ourselves up for that, but overall they played a lights-out game.”

Early on, it was the Wolverines who were playing lights out. Moritz Wagner was getting to the basket and Abdur-Rahkman was attacking and hitting 3-pointers. He scored seven points as Michigan opened a 21-14 lead with 10:59 to play in the first half.

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“I think we just came out with a lot of energy,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “It's the national championship game; you want to come out and play well. And I think we just had a lot of energy from the beginning, and they just made some adjustments.

“I can't pinpoint any moment where kind of the turning point turned. It just went the way it did.”

The way it went was Villanova settling down and hitting shots while the Wolverines suddenly couldn’t buy a basket. Michigan made just three of its final 16 shots in the first half as the Wildcats outscored the Wolverines, 23-7, to close the half.

Another surge to open the second half put Villanova up by 18 and Michigan was never able to cut the margin to less than double digits.

“They made some adjustments,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “But all that really happened is we came out hot and then cooled off a little bit. But they continued to play defense and our shots weren’t going in.”

It was tougher to get shots to fall for Abdur-Rahkman considering he spent the last 4:07 of the first half on the bench after picking up his second foul. That, along with two quick fouls on Duncan Robinson, was a key to how the momentum swung, according to coach John Beilein.

“Not having Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali in there for much of that half was a killer for us,” Beilein said. “Isaiah Livers is going to be a really good player. But having him (on the court for) 17 (minutes) and Duncan for three was not good for us. Muhammad-Ali sitting out was not good for us.”

Abdur-Rahkman did his best to rally the Wolverines, scoring 13 of his 23 in the second half. However, Michigan could never get over the hump.

It left Abdur-Rahkman and the other seniors contemplating that they had played their final college game while hoping to impart some wisdom on their younger teammates.

“I just told them it was a team effort,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “No individual let us down. It just happens that you have nights like this when you don’t make shots and they make tough shots, when it seems like everything is going wrong. There are nights like that and it was sad to see it happen on this night.”

Abdur-Rahkman finished his Michigan career with 1,313 points, 409 rebounds and 295 assists in a program-record 144 games played. He started the final 67 games of his career.

He scored 20 points or more in six games this season and led the team in scoring 15 times. But he’ll be remembered for more than just the numbers. As a captain, along with Robinson and Wagner, he was the heart of a team that put together a special season.

“It’s remarkable what they were able to accomplish,” Beilein said. “It was just this incredible leadership. It wasn’t the type that is out there, that is just like screaming all the time. It’s just they have such a presence about them that everybody just followed along.”

Added freshman Isaiah Livers, “They’re natural leaders. My senior year, when it comes down to it, if I could have any captain to be like it definitely would be like these set of three here, including Moe, Duncan and Muhammad. I want to be like them. They all had their roles and played it well. They led because they wanted to win.”