No let up: Michigan's full-throttle approach giving foes no breaks
Ann Arbor — The game was already over and all that was left was the final score.
Yet, with roughly four minutes remaining and Michigan up by 30 points, there was senior forward Isaiah Livers chasing down Wisconsin’s Jonathan Davis after a turnover and viciously swatting his fast-break layup attempt off the backboard.
It was just a snippet of the nonstop drive the No. 7 Wolverines played with in Tuesday’s latest beatdown as they continue to destroy the competition.
According to Livers, Michigan’s ability to go full bore for 40 minutes stems from a practice drill called hunger games. While coach Juwan Howard declined to reveal the nature of the drill — "It develops habits and it's going to force you to have a carryover into a game-like situation,” Howard said — Livers didn’t hesitate to explain.
“There's no fouls, no calls, no out of bounds,” Livers said after Michigan improved to 11-0 with the 77-54 victory over No. 9 Wisconsin. “You're fighting for a rebound. You're fighting for a loose ball. You're fighting for every bucket you get.
“We call it hunger games for a reason. Only the strong survive. It’s for competitors only and that's our motto. That second half, till it's 0:00 (on clock), that's when we let up.”
That has shown over past three games where Michigan has gone for the jugular, turning close contests into second-half bloodbaths and becoming the first team in college basketball history to beat three straight ranked opponents by at least 19 points.
More impressive than that stat is the fact the winning margins don’t tell the complete story of how dominant Michigan was against Northwestern, Minnesota and Wisconsin. In each game, the Wolverines stepped on their throats and never relented, building leads of 29, 37 and 40 points.
They kept pushing and pressing with their offensive firepower and ferocious defense until they buried the Wildcats, Gophers and Badgers in a hole so deep there was no way to recover.
"It says a lot about their maturity and understanding that every possession counts and matters,” Howard said. “There are going to be highs, going to be some lows but it never gets the point where it's too high where you can sit back and feel it's going to be easy ballgames.
“Wisconsin is a team that's capable of going on runs and basketball is based on runs. Fortunate for us, our defense did a phenomenal job of being disruptive.”
Even after closing the first half against Wisconsin on a 14-0 run and entering halftime with all the momentum as well as a 17-point lead, Howard noted his players didn’t get “too emotionally high," didn't lose focus and didn't deviate from the game plan.
Instead of the Badgers coming out swinging early in the second half, the Wolverines were the aggressors and continued to punch them in the mouth with a 22-0 flurry.
“I heard guys in the locker room reminding each other that we still have 20 more minutes to play. Look at the score as being 0-0,” Howard said. “It's good to hear when it's coming from players and they're holding each other accountable instead of the coach has to say it. There are times where I go into halftime and I don't even have to say some of things I was prepared to say because guys have already addressed it amongst each other.”
Livers credited strength and conditioning coach Jon Sanderson and his “crazy conditioning drills” in the summer for helping the Wolverines play to their full potential for long stretches at a time, like during Tuesday’s absurd 43-6 run over the first and second halves.
But there’s another factor at play that can’t be taught.
“It's about effort, heart. It's about who wants it more,” Livers said. “We wanted it more.”
And after another runaway victory, the Wolverines have no plans on taking their foot off the gas.
“They (coaches) keep us ready and instilled that mentality that we keep playing our game no matter if we're down, we're up one or up 25,” Wagner said. “That's how you get better as team when you don't watch the scoreboard too much.
“I think the last three games we've done a good job with that. But now it's next game. We can't look in the past and can't be satisfied.”