Wolverines take Warriors comparison in stride

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Indianapolis – Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr. had one burning question: Which Michigan player is Steph Curry?

After seventh-seeded Michigan put on a 3-point shooting display in the second half of Friday’s wild 92-91 win over No. 10 seed Oklahoma State, Louisville coach Rick Pitino likened the Wolverines to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

Pitino watched the final 20 minutes when Michigan caught fire, shot 11-for-15 from 3-point range and finished with 16 made 3-pointers, which set a single-game program record and tied the Big Ten record in an NCAA Tournament game.

Four Michigan players made at least two 3-pointers highlighted by Walton, who finished 6-for-9 with five deep balls coming in the second half.

“I just want to know if he thinks I’m Steph. If that’s the case then that’s high praise,” said Walton, who leads Michigan into Sunday's second-round matchup against No. 2 seed Louisville. “I don’t really know what he meant by it, but I take it as he respects the fact that we got five guys that can make plays. That’s how I look at it.”

Forward D.J. Wilson wasted no time comparing the two starting lineups, stating he was Kevin Durant, Zak Irvin was Klay Thompson, Moritz Wagner was Draymond Green, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman was Zaza Pachulia and Walton was Curry.

But when asked how he took Pitino’s remark, Wilson didn’t think much of it.

“It kind of just went in one ear and out the other for me, honestly,” Wilson said. “I guess it’s a compliment.”

Irvin heard word of Pitino’s praise through roommate Andrew Dakich, who saw it on social media, and got a kick out of it.

“I thought it was funny and it’s a compliment to have,” Irvin said. “We do shoot the ball very well but to say the Warriors, that’s something else.”

While Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in 3-pointers made (344), 11th in 3-pointers attempted (889) and 35th in 3-point field-goal percentage (38.7 percent), Michigan coach John Beilein was quick to pump the brakes and shun the comparison.

“I think Rick has got a little bit of an exaggeration there. I mean a big exaggeration,” Beilein said. “We had a really good game and we’ve done that a couple times this year, but we’re going to be flexible. Golden State is flexible, but make no mistake we are not close to that team.”

Pitino and Beilein were among the early adopters when the NCAA implemented the 3-point line in 1986, particularly when Pitino was at Kentucky and Beilein was at Division II Le Moyne.

“It’s been a weapon we had to do by design at Le Moyne when it came in because that was the only way we were going to win,” Beilein said. “Our whole thought was that was what if we can get some athletes that can shoot it? What if we can get some athletes that are skilled? There’s another way of winning. We’ve embraced it from the very beginning and Rick has, too.”

This season, five Wolverines have made at least 40 3-pointers: Walton (93), Duncan Robinson (62), Irvin (51), Wagner (44) and Abdur-Rahkman (42). Wilson is not far behind from joining the group at 36. Louisville has three players with at least 40 made 3-pointers in guards Donovan Mitchell (77) and Quentin Snider (56) and forward Deng Adel (42).

And as the game continues to evolve, Beilein noted it’s only a matter of time before everyone else starts to catch up.

“I think the game is going in that direction,” Beilein said. “I don’t think anybody understood analytics when it first came in. I think the analytics are telling you that there’s another way to win a game besides just getting rebounds or pressing. There’s another way of winning and it’s by your baskets counting more than theirs.”

No. 7 Michigan vs. No. 2 Louisville

When: Sunday, 12:10 p.m.

Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV/radio: CBS/950

Records: Michigan 25-11, Louisville 25-8

At stake: Spot in Midwest Region semifinals against Oregon-Rhode Island winner


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins