'Stay aggressive': UM's Brazdeikis rebounds from scoreless outing
Ann Arbor — Redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews had one piece of advice for freshman teammate Ignas Brazdeikis.
Coming off his first scoreless outing of the season, Brazdeikis put those words to work by recording his second double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday’s 59-57 win over Minnesota at Crisler Center.
“I told him to come in and do the same thing (he’s been doing),” Matthews said. “You might not be as productive as you once were but stay aggressive.
"You’ve got to have a short memory out here. That’s what happens when you establish yourself as a premier player. You’re going to be targeted and it’s not going to come to easy to you. You’ve got to continue to find a way."
Brazdeikis didn’t record the most efficient stat line by finishing 4-for-18 from the floor and 1-for-7 from 3-point range, but he was able to draw eight fouls and get to the free-throw line 11 times.
That plus his performance in practice and attitude is what prompted Michigan coach John Beilein to put the ball in his hands on the Wolverines’ final possession, which ended with a buzzer-beating floater by Matthews.
“He's not a guy who carries a lot of baggage around with him,” Beilein said. “He's pretty good at moving on to the next play. But he was the only one that was making plays at times in this game.
“We liked his matchup and we were trying to exploit that as much as we could.”
Brazdeikis missed his first seven shots in a first half where everyone not named Jon Teske struggled. But after closing the half with back-to-back layups in the final 1:45, that seemed to get him going and helped him regain his scoring touch in time to fuel Michigan's key second-half spurt.
He scored 13 of his points during a 23-3 run that turned a seven-point deficit into a 13-point lead, highlighted by a 3-pointer, three-point play and fouls drawn on two 3-point attempts.
"Thank goodness I got something to go for me, you know?" Brazdeikis said. "I’m obviously not going to lose confidence in myself. That’s definitely something that’s not going to happen with me. My teammates trusting me and the coaches trusting me to keep going, keep playing, that’s the only reason I could do this."
After averaging 10.4 points on 37.5 percent shooting over the past five games entering Tuesday, Brazdeikis hasn't fully snapped out of his shooting slump.
Yet, Beilein isn’t worried and believes it's only a matter of time Brazdeikis returns to his formidable form.
"I've had the (Tim) Hardaways and Duncans (Robinson) and Derrick Waltons and all these great players. They all have dry periods in their game,” Beilein said. “This is good news, right? One of these days you're going to get hot and you're never going to stop.
"I'm glad we're getting rid of it now. I have a lot of confidence in him and I liked his shot selection today. It was really good.”
Simpson makes list
Junior guard Zavier Simpson is finally starting to get some national recognition for his defensive prowess.
Simpson is one of 15 players named to the midseason watch list for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award, which was released Tuesday.
He is also one of four Big Ten players to make the cut, along with Maryland forward Bruno Fernando, Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy and Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ.
Despite having one of the nation’s top defenses, Simpson is the only Wolverine to be mentioned. However, players who aren’t listed are still eligible to be selected as semifinalists, which will be announced in February.
With Teske and Matthews each picking up an early foul, Beilein opted to go with a small-ball lineup for stretches in the first half.
That led to sophomore guard Eli Brooks logging 23 minutes, tied for his second-highest amount of playing time this season. Brooks finished with two points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal and a team-high plus-15 plus-minus rating in his extended duty.
"He's got to give us minutes right here. We've got to be able to have guys that come off the bench and go in there and play,” Beilein said. “He had a couple really nice plays. He's still got to be more anxious to shoot the ball. He did a really good job. He and David (DeJulius) right now are battling in practice every day and one of those guys is going to have to play more. Today it was Eli.”
… To honor Martin Luther King Jr., Michigan wore black shirts with “The Dream” listed three times on the front and King’s initials on the back during warm-ups.
… Michigan has won 19 straight games at Crisler Center, which is the third best stretch in program history.