The Michigan Wolverines thought a road to the Final Four opened for them when No. 11 seed UCLA took down Alabama in the Sweet 16. As it turns out, they were the next victim in line in a stunning Cinderella run.
Michigan played its worst game of the season on the biggest stage it has played on to date, losing to UCLA by a score of 51-49. The Wolverines shot 39 percent from the floor on the night and had several opportunities to claw out a victory, but just could not convert on shots around the basket. A 6-for-11 mark from the free throw line was another uncharacteristic bummer in the upset loss.
Normally, we would do a blow-by-blow recap of what happened, but we can probably skip right to takeaways here. This was a brutal showing from the Wolverines. They looked like a team that saw its path to a showdown with Gonzaga in the Final Four before taking care of the task at hand. They played hard, especially on the defensive end of the floor, but did not have an answer for anything UCLA threw at them defensively and could not cash in on their opportunities.
Franz Wagner and Mike Smith went a combined 2-for-17 from the floor. Wagner’s performance was perhaps his worst in a Michigan uniform on the offensive end. Michigan just could not afford that on Tuesday night. All they had to do was be a single point better than UCLA and they could not muster it. The 14 turnovers did not help, either.
Johnny Juzang and Tyger Campbell had 39 of UCLA’s 51 points. Even with Juzang going off again, this game was right there for the Wolverines.
It is hard to put together a clear batch of takeaways in the immediate aftermath of this game. It is massively disappointing that in two of Michigan’s biggest banner-potential games of the year (Illinois, UCLA), they were largely absent without a ton of juice there. Both of those instances saw Michigan look like a team that was gassed and at the end of its rope. This is been an insanely challenging year for these players given the COVID protocols, missing three weeks of the season, quarantining in Indianapolis for almost a month, etc.
Michigan won a Big Ten regular season title and earned a No. 1 seed in the second year of the Juwan Howard era. They were a made basket at the end of the game from going to a Final Four without one of their best players. This was a special group that did far more than any of us expected and fans should be proud of that. The future — which we will write more about soon — is extremely bright and a strong foundation has been set for future success.
But for now, there is a ton of hurt. Potential was left on the table despite all they had been through. This will be a loss that sting for awhile, but it can be something that the guys left behind grow from. Talent will continue to flow to Ann Arbor with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country coming in next year.
Tuesday was painful, but fans have a lot to be thankful for. It does not excuse Tuesday’s loss, but we should take solace in the fact that Michigan basketball — both the men and women — gave the university a ton to be proud of in the toughest calendar year that any of us have experienced.