Michigan had a chance to do several things in Thursday’s matchup against Wisconsin they haven’t done all season — have a three-game winning streak and be over .500 in the Big 10 schedule.
Derrick Walton also had a chance to do something that no Michigan Wolverine basketball player has ever done — have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists in his college career. He only needed two rebounds to do it.
If Walton and the Wolverines wanted to complete those tasks tonight, they’d have to do it against the 11th ranked Wisconsin Badgers, a team they lost to earlier in the year on the road.
It was a grind the entire game, with each team taking leads and losing leads. But at the end of the game, Wisconsin had the lead win the buzzer sounded. The Wolverines topped the Badgers in Ann Arbor 64-58. Michigan broke a six-game losing streak against Wisconsin.
Walton nabbed those two rebounds relatively early in the game. Other than reaching the milestone, he didn’t contribute offensively as much as one guy that no one expected to finally show up for a big game — Zak Irvin.
Over the last four games, Irvin had 13 points and 10 rebounds...total. In this game, he had 18 points and five rebounds. He also had multiple clutch 3-point shots; one was a bank shot as the shot clock was running slim, while another was shortly after a 4-point play by Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The latter put the Wolverines up by seven, their largest lead of the night at the time.
Wisconsin was without its best player, Bronson Koenig, as the star point guard was dealing with a leg injury. But Ethan Happ, to the surprise of most, stepped up for the Badgers. He fouled out with 36.9 seconds left in the game, but he finished with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting with six boards, six assists, five blocks and three steals.
Despite only having four points in the second half, Happ caused havoc throughout the entire game for the Wolverines. So when he fouled out, the student section waved goodbye to the Wisconsin star player of the game.
After the game, Irvin spoke with the ESPN crew and said his shooting woes were a “mental block.” It appears, for now, that the mental block is gone, but continuing to shoot the way he did tonight will be a huge factor in Michigan punching its ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines play next on Sunday, traveling to Minnesota to take on the Gophers at 6 p.m. Michigan defeated Minnesota in both regular season contests last season.