How to watch
Teams: Michigan (7-2) at No. 2 UCLA Bruins (9-0)
Date: December 10, 2016
Location: Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, California
Start time: 8 p.m. ET
Television: ESPN 2, streaming on WatchESPN
Radio: UCLA Sports Network from IMG
After Michigan survived against the Texas Longhorns, 53-50, Tuesday night at the Crisler Center, the Wolverines have to prepare for an even more challenging task: the No. 2 team in the nation, UCLA.
This season, the Bruins have been unstoppable. They possess the nation’s No. 2 scoring offense—97 points per game—and UCLA recently took down college basketball blue blood, the Kentucky Wildcats, 97-92.
Looking at this game, it may be a long shot—like a full court shot—for Michigan to pull off the upset. UCLA possesses one of the nation’s most dynamic players in guard Lonzo Ball. The freshman is averaging 14.6 points and 5 rebounds per game, while shooting 55.4 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from behind the 3-point line. Even when Ball is not playing to his level, like he did against Kentucky, the Bruins have an arsenal of players who can pick of his slack.
Along with Ball, UCLA has five other athletes who are averaging double-digit points per game. Isaac Hamilton, T.J. Leaf, Bryce Alford, Aaron Holiday, and Thomas Welch are averaging 18.1, 17.2, 15.3, 12.9 and 11.1 points per contest so far in 2016-17. So Michigan cannot just focus on stopping and limiting Ball’s impact on the game.
Now, the Wolverines do possess a defense that may contend with the Bruins’ offense. In nine games this season, Michigan is only allowing 58.2 points per game. That is good for No. 10 in the nation.
If the maize and blue want any chance to pull off the upset, they will need to get senior co-captains, Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. going offensively (defensively too for Walton since he is guarding Ball).
Against Texas, Irvin and Walton both had uninspiring outings, even U-M coach John Beilein stated the two performed not their level against the Longhorns. The leaders combined for a mere 10 points on 4-of-17 shooting against the opposing burnt orange squad.
Although Irvin and Walton were both underwhelming last Tuesday, they have stood out in other contests this year.
When Michigan participated in the 2K Classic in New York earlier this year, Irvin took home the tournaments MVP award while Walton had an impressive 7-of-13 shooting game for 23 points against the SMU Mustangs in the 2K finale. The two are also the team’s leading scorers, averaging a combined 25 points per game. But just like the game against Texas, they have had some not so riveting performances.
During the 2K Classic Irvin was held to five points against the South Carolina Gamecocks, while Walton was held scoreless in Michigan’s first round game against the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Michigan will need Irvin and Walton to play like they need in the later part of the 2K Classic, as UCLA rarely turns over the ball. On the season the Bruins have a turnover rate of 16.3 percent, but during their two hardest games—Texas A&M and Kentucky—they did give the ball away on 20 percent of their possessions. So, Michigan will need Irvin and Walton to score early and often in this matchup in Los Angeles.
Even if Irvin and Walton both struggle against UCLA they will play the entire game no matter. Irvin and Walton’s backups are freshman who aren’t ready for such a limelight like UCLA.
While Michigan will need Irvin and Walton to be on their A-games, the Wolverines should feel good about their frontcourt situation heading into this game as Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson are coming into their own and Duncan Robinson is getting more comfortable coming off the bench.
Although the frontcourt is looking more and more promising, the consistency of Irvin and Walton will ultimately determine the outcome of this game for the Wolverines. The two have proven to have the ability to play against high level opponents. But if the seniors perform like they did last Tuesday, it may be a long night for the maize and blue.
Today’s pre-game question is this:
How many points do Irvin and Walton combine for tonight against UCLA?