Ann Arbor — One of sophomore forward Isaiah Livers’ priorities this season was to be more aggressive.
So, when Livers didn’t pull the trigger on an open shot in Saturday’s win over Maryland, he had a sense of what was going to come next.
“There was one where I turned down a corner 3,” Livers said, “and I already knew when I went to the bench Zavier was going to yell at me.”
And junior guard Zavier Simpson certainly did because unlike last season when Livers was the fifth scoring option when he was on the floor, that’s not the case this year.
As the team’s versatile sixth man and top 3-point shooter (42.9 percent), the Wolverines need him to be a force and make his presence felt on both ends, not just on defense.
“I tell him to come in and hunt,” Simpson said. “Don't come in being passive. We don't need you to be passing. Let me do the passing.
“If he's open five times in a row, shoot it five times or drive. I tell him to come in and be thirsty. Come off the bench being thirsty and looking to score.”
With the exception of that one shot, Livers has played with a more assertive mindset the past couple games.
Against Penn State last week, he scored five straight points in 17 seconds by not passing up a clean look from 3-point range before driving hard to the rim to draw a foul and earn two free throws.
Then against Maryland, he sprinted up the floor to help create fast-break opportunities and even pushed the ball in transition off a defensive rebound. He also didn’t shy away from hoisting three consecutive open 3-point attempts, with two of those shots coming on one possession because “we always say go 0-for-8 before you go 0-for-2.”
In both of those games, there was an instance where Livers got the ball out on the perimeter, put it on the floor and attacked a soft spot in the defense by knocking down a pull-up jumper near the free-throw line.
"Coach Dre (DeAndre Haynes) and the other assistants emphasize before games just stay aggressive, take your shots,” said Livers, who is averaging 7.5 points in 21.5 minutes. “Basically, they’re telling me I can do anything any other guy out there can do, I can do just as much as they can do. I just got to believe in himself, and I have been."
And it’s not just his current teammates and coaching staff telling him that.
Even former Wolverine Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, a member of last season’s national runner-up team, gave Livers similar words of wisdom when he was in Ann Arbor this past week.
“He said sometimes he finds myself looking for a 3 more than cutting to the basket and getting a dunk or making a play for my big man,” Livers said. “It's just simple stuff like that and cutting to the basket.”
Livers has been a key cog all season and appears to be playing at the level he was earlier in the year, which took a hiatus when he was out for two games due to soreness from back spasms.
Last season, Livers suffered an ankle injury late in the regular season — the same one he slightly sprained before this season — and admitted he wasn’t the same player when he returned. But that hasn’t been the case this time and Livers said he feels “110 percent healthy.”
With his health not hindering him, Michigan coach John Beilein said there’s still another gear Livers can reach.
“We've been working with and talking with him a lot because he leaves a lot on the table,” Beilein said. “He shoots 3s well but there's another element to his game that he's still developing, and we've got to encourage it. I thought one time he drove baseline he should've went up and dunked it. But he deferred, and he made another good play and kicked it out.
“He's got to understand angles better and he's learning them. We just got to keep teaching him because he's a tremendous athlete, but he's leaving too much on the table by not having more of an edge when he's driving.”
Livers is aware of it. He tells himself when he goes out on the floor he's going to drive with a purpose and drive to score.
The key to keeping his foot on the pedal? There's one simple solution.
“Do it,” Livers said. “Stop saying it and just do it.”