'We came up short': Cold-shooting Michigan falls to UCLA in Elite Eight
Indianapolis — Michigan had so many shots, so many chances to keep its Final Four hopes alive.
A nightmare finish dashed those dreams.
The Wolverines went ice cold down the stretch and missed four go-ahead looks in the final 11 seconds in a crushing 51-49 loss to No. 11 seed UCLA in the Elite Eight on Tuesday night.
“Very disappointing loss to end our season this way,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “That's how it goes sometimes. In the game of basketball, there's one or two possessions that can really either help you or hurt you, and for us, we came up short.”
Michigan, the No. 1 seed in the East Region, missed its last eight shot attempts, including a 3-pointer by grad transfer guard Mike Smith with a couple seconds left and another by sophomore wing Franz Wagner at the buzzer. The team didn’t make a field goal and scored just three points over the final 5:22 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Wolverines (23-5) trailed by as many as nine points in the second half before they clawed their way back. They trailed by three with a minute remaining before Wagner attacked the basket, drew a foul and hit two free throws to cut it to 50-49 with 44 seconds left.
Michigan needed a stop and got it, rebounding a missed 3-pointer by UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and calling a timeout with 19 seconds to go. On the ensuing possession, Wagner took a dribble handoff from Smith and airballed an open look from beyond the arc. Senior guard Eli Brooks was also short on a putback attempt before UCLA secured the rebound.
The Wolverines quickly fouled and sent Johnny Juzang, who they had no answer for all night, to the free-throw line. He made the first and missed the second. Michigan grabbed the rebound and called another timeout with six seconds left.
This time, Howard drew up a play for Smith, who took the inbounds pass, raced up the court and got off a good look from the wing. It was off the mark, the buzzer sounded, and UCLA (22-9) began to celebrate.
A replay review put a half-second back on the clock, giving Michigan one last shot to save its season. The inbounds pass went to Wagner, who put up another 3-pointer that drew iron before the final horn sounded for good.
“We got the look, got the shot that we wanted,” Howard said. “Unfortunately, there's not much you can do with point-five, but that shot was a nice little heave. Unfortunately, it just didn't go in. Before that we got an open look and just fell short."
Added Brooks: “We were in place to make shots and came up short.”
Freshman center Hunter Dickinson finished with 11 points to lead the Wolverines. Senior guard Chaundee Brown had eight points and nine rebounds off the bench, while junior forward Brandon Johns Jr. and Brooks each scored eight.
The Wolverines shot 39.2% from the field (20-for-51) and 3-for-11 from 3-point range. Wagner finished 1-for-10 and Smith was 1-for-7. Michigan also missed five throws, committed 14 turnovers and scored its fewest points of the season.
“They played extremely hard. They earned that win,” Brooks said. “We're not going to take anything away from them. They made everything challenging.
"When you don't make shots, it makes things a little more difficult."
Juzang led the way with 28 points — 18 coming in the first half — on 11-for-19 shooting and Tyger Campbell added 11 points for UCLA, which shot 38.9 from the floor (21-for-54) and 3-for-13 from deep.
The Bruins are only the fifth No. 11 seed to reach the national semifinals and are just the second First Four team to make the Final Four, where they will face No. 1 overall seed and undefeated Gonzaga.
“It was a Big Ten battle royal game,” UCLA coach Mick Cronin said. “Nobody could find an offensive rhythm and that was just a credit to the defenses.
“To find a way to beat them with defense the way we did tonight, obviously extremely proud of our team. It was just resilience. Stats are for losers, you either win or you lose. I think that stat sheet can get crumbled up tonight.”
It was far from pretty at the start as both teams had a tough time making shots and holding onto the ball. The Wolverines were stagnant and sloppy against UCLA’s switching on defense and the Bruins refused to let Dickinson get comfortable in the post.
Michigan’s defense, though, was up to the task. The Wolverines forced the Bruins to miss 12 of their first 14 shots and commit four turnovers over the opening 10 minutes. That included a scoring drought of nearly seven minutes where Michigan pieced together a 9-0 run that Brown capped with a corner 3-pointer for an 11-4 lead with 10:47 remaining in the first half.
But once Juzang snapped the dry spell with a runner in the lane, he started to heat up and seemingly couldn’t be stopped. He drained back-to-back 3-pointers and got loose for a layup as he scored 14 of UCLA’s first 16 points.
“Every shot or every point that he got, he worked hard for it,” Howard said. “Our guys, different guys that was guarding him, was making everything tough. There were some shots that he made…that were very challenging, difficult. Juzang had it going.”
By the time the ugly first half fittingly ended with Smith missing two free throws in the final seconds, the Wolverines trailed the Bruins, 27-23, and committed nearly as many turnovers (nine) as made shots (10).
The Bruins stretched their lead to 34-25 before Juzang landed awkwardly in a rebounding scrum and limped to the bench to get his ankle taped. He was only out a few minutes, but Michigan took advantage. Dickinson made back-to-back baskets in the paint to spark an 8-0 run that cut the deficit to one with 12:35 to go.
That set the stage for a back-and-forth battle where Michigan took the lead twice, the last on a Dickinson free throw for a 47-46 edge with 4:30 to play, before the empty possessions and missed opportunities piled up.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides,” Howard said. “Both teams expended a lot of energy on the floor. Fortunate for them, they were able to win the game by two points.”