Michigan coach talks about his team's performance in Saturday's 61-52 win over Wisconsin that avenged its first loss of the season. James Hawkins, The Detroit News
Ann Arbor — Lose the battle, win the war.
That was essentially No. 7 Michigan’s defensive strategy against No. 19 Wisconsin — let forward Ethan Happ have his way in the post but shut down everything else.
This time around, the plan worked as Happ needed 19 shots to get 18 points and the Wolverines limited the Badgers to four made 3-pointers — their third-fewest in a game this season — in Saturday’s 61-52 win at Crisler Center.
“Ethan Happ said to me after the game, ‘I hope to see you again this season,’” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “No, Ethan. I don't want to see you again in my entire life. This guy is incredible, and we weren't supposed to double (team) all night. One of our guys left his guy, doubled and they hit a big 3 against us. It's just really hard to defend what they do.”
In the first meeting last month, Happ tormented Michigan down low and flirted with a triple-double by racking up 26 points (12-for-22 shooting), 10 rebounds and seven assists.
Saturday’s rematch started to unfold in a similar fashion when Happ scored 14 points and made seven of his first 10 shots in the first half, with most of that production coming in one-on-one situations against junior center Jon Teske.
But Happ slowed down significantly when he picked up his third foul with 18:26 to go in the second half and was glued to the bench for the next nine minutes.
According to Wisconsin coach Greg Gard, he opted to keep Happ out for the long stretch because the Badgers never let it get to a three-possession game but acknowledged it got the preseason All-American “out of rhythm a little bit.”
“They have a 6-11 guy (Teske) behind you and they're pesky around him,” Gard said. “Zavier Simpson does a good job of digging and they squeeze the floor pretty well. Then we started to overdribble and we held the ball too long in that position and didn’t move it. So that allows them to collapse and squeeze the ball quite a bit and makes it harder to finish. But he had some very good looks that normally he converts on.”
Happ missed his first five attempts of the second half and didn’t break through until he made a layup with 6:13 left in the game. He scored just two more points the rest of the way, finishing 9-for-19 from the field and committing five of Wisconsin’s seven turnovers.
Much of that had to do with Teske, who stayed out of foul trouble. He played more physical with Happ and forced him to counter two or three times every time he touched the ball over the final 20 minutes.
“With Ethan, he'll throw three fakes at you and you've got to stay down on all those things,” Beilein said. “He's going to get his 2s, we just didn't want to give up the 3s. The only bad 3 we gave up is we doubled off of (Nate) Reuvers and that was not part of the scouting report.”
Wisconsin entered the matchup leading the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 39.5 percent and averaging nearly eight made 3s on roughly 20 attempts per game.
On Saturday, only 12 of the Badgers' 59 shot attempts came from beyond the arc and only nine of their 24 total made field goals came outside the paint.
But even after holding Happ to one of his least-efficient offensive performances of the season while guarding him straight up, Beilein reiterated he hopes it's the last time he’ll have to deal with the fifth-year Badger.
“I'm not embarrassed to say that Wisconsin has got the best of a lot of teams in the Big Ten, not just Michigan,” Beilein said. “He has been a big part of their success against us in these last four years. I don't want to play him ever again.”
The second meeting against Wisconsin didn’t get much better for freshman forward and leading scorer Ignas Brazdeikis.
After being held scoreless in 23 minutes in the first encounter, Brazdeikis finished with two points (1-for-9 shooting) in 32 minutes in the rematch.
Beilein tried to get Brazdeikis involved early on, but he missed Michigan's first two shots of the game and struggled to do much of anything on the offensive end with the 6-foot-10 Happ guarding him.
“He's got some length on him and he didn't make some,” Beilein said. “That's the way it goes.”
While both of Brazdeikis’ lowest-scoring outputs have come against Wisconsin, nobody on Michigan is fretting the rough outing.
“We’ve got a good team. We understand Iggy didn't get it going this game, but Iggy has been very reliable for us,” redshirt junior wing Charles Matthews said. “We're not really pressing about that. He'll be fine.”
Sophomore guard Jordan Poole didn't forget how the first game against Wisconsin ended last month.
"When we lost to them at (the Kohl Center), it was like seven seconds left and we knew the game was over," Poole said. "We were down by nine and we were just trying to get ball up the court. They stole it and they dunked it."
Actually, Michigan was only down six when junior guard Zavier Simpson missed a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left. That led to a long rebound by Happ and an outlet pass to Reuvers, who threw down a dunk with 10 ticks left.
Still, that image replayed in Poole's head in the closing seconds on Saturday. So when Brad Davison made a layup with 10 seconds remaining, Poole called for the inbounds pass and raced up the court.
Instead of dribbling out the clock, Poole wanted to repay the favor and lobbed an alley-oop to sophomore forward Isaiah Livers to end the game.
"I was going to go down and dunk the ball," Poole said. "I saw Reuvers or however you say his name, and he was sprinting down the middle of the lane. I saw Isaiah at half court and we made eye contact. (Reuvers) didn’t see (Livers) behind him, so I just threw it up. It was a cool moment."
In the first meeting against Wisconsin, Michigan tied a season high with 16 turnovers. On Saturday, the Wolverines turned the ball over four times, their second-lowest total this season.
… Saturday was the 13th time this season Michigan held an opponent under 60 points.
… Dating back to last season, Michigan has won 21 consecutive games at Crisler Center.
… Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and former Wolverine Jaaron Simmons were on hand for the game.