The No. 1 Arizona Wildcats stormed into chilly Ann Arbor, looking to notch their 11th win in 11 tries this season. Michigan looked to not only deny Sean Miller's squad that perfection, they aimed to score a huge confidence-booster of a non-conference win.
While the weather sat at around 18 degrees by tip-off, both teams were warmed up and looking like they were born to run like Springsteen. Both teams weren't especially precise early on, but it takes a little while to get the blood flowing after stepping in from the cold.
Arizona got on the board first, but Michigan attained an 18-12 lead halfway through the first half. Spike Albrecht entered the game and made an immediate impact, dropping a couple of nifty dimes to Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, then burying a triple. In case you were wondering, Albrecht's performance against Louisville was no fluke; he will continue to be a big time contributor off of the bench.
Albrecht later hit an NBA range three from the top of the key to extend the lead to 28-20, but an 8-2 run from the Wildcats brought them to within two.
However, the story of the first half was undoubtedly Robinson, who scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field, possibly his best half of basketball as a Wolverine. Robinson displayed the aggressiveness that Michigan fans and impartial observers alike have been hoping to see.
The Wolverines carried a 38-27 lead into the second half, having held the Wildcats to just 34.4 percent from the field. However, the Wildcats were the No. 1 team in the country for a reason, and you knew that their best basketball was likely ahead of them in the second half.
Arizona rattled off an 11-2 run to start the second half, cutting Michigan's once 11-point lead to just two. Everybody watching knew that run was coming, but what how Michigan would respond remained up in the air.
The Wolverines got their buckets when needed, not relinquishing the lead to the hard-charging Wildcats. Nik Stauskas's second bucket of the game with 8:44 remaining, an and-1, put the Wolverines up six, with U-M entering the bonus less than a minute later.
The Wildcats began to give the Wolverines fits on the glass, even with Beilein deploying the two-big lineup. Arizona's size and length will likely make that sort of rebounding dominance a theme for their opponents this season, but that is small consolation for a Michigan team looking to grab a win in the here and now.
This time, a 6-0 run from Arizona cut the Michigan lead to 58-56 with just 4:30 to play. After scoring 16 in the first half, Robinson had just four second half points to this point. Meanwhile, Stauskas and LeVert were both in the double-digits as well, with 12 and 15 points, respectively. McGary, however, was having a quiet afternoon, with four points on 2-for-3 shooting.
In any case, one of those four would have to step up in the final eighth of the game if the Wolverines were going to complete the upset.
Arizona took its first lead--since taking a 7-5 lead early in the game--63-62, following a crushing sequence in which Stauskas failed to finish at the rim and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson completed a traditional 3-point play in transition at the other end.
Michigan retook the lead after a pair of McGary free throws with 1:57 to play, upon which the Crisler Center turned it up to 11. Brandon Ashley ignored the noise and scored anyway, but Stauskas responded at the other end with a strong take to the rim, giving Michigan a 66-65 lead.
Arizona grabbed an offensive rebound at the other end, then went to the line for a 1-and-1 with 24.6 remaining. Nick Johnson buried both, after which Michigan had the chance to take the last shot.
Stauskas received the ball at the left wing, took a few dribbles then rose for a good look from inside the arc. The shot rattled off the rim and the Wildcats corraled the rebound with 9.5 seconds remaining.
Johnson went to the line for another 1-and-1. Again, he made both. Down three, Michigan had 9.1 seconds to get a good look from three to send the game to overtime. Arizona fouled Albrecht, who split from the line.
Johnson went to the line one more time, this time on the double bonus, with 6.1 seconds left. He made the first, then the second, effectively sealing the win for the Wildcats.
Michigan held the lead for most of the game, but Arizona justified its No. 1 ranking late. The Wildcats got the buckets they needed and dominated the Wolverines on the boards, including an offensive board in the last minute that allowed them to, ultimately, take the lead from the free throw line.
Needless to say, the Wolverines let a huge resume booster of a victory slip through its chilled fingertips this afternoon. There are some positives to take away from this one, namely GRIII's first half performance, but, in the end, a loss is a loss.
In any case, Michigan takes on a quality Stanford team in Brooklyn next Saturday, a game the Wolverines absolutely have to win. There's still a lot of basketball to be played and quite a bit of time for this squad to find itself; but, come tournament time, this loss at home will sting like the Ann Arbor cold.