The Michigan Wolverines are coming off what might be their best performance of the season so far, even though they lost a nail-biter to the No. 3 Virginia Cavaliers, 70-68. They looked like the better team for large stretches, despite the loss.
After shooting the lights out in the first half and obtaining an 11-point lead going into the break, Virginia methodically and efficiently got the lead back, winning the turnover battle (12-7) and ultimately playing better in the final few minutes to seal the win.
“I guess we didn’t execute down the stretch,” Terrance Williams II said about the team’s play in the final few minutes. “I feel like we turned the ball couple times down the stretch, we just didn’t execute what we drew up, and the ball didn’t fall our way today in the last couple minutes.”
That first half might have been the best half this team has played all season. They shot 7-for-13 from three, and a good portion of those shots came by moving the ball and finding the open man. Hunter Dickinson improved drastically as a passer last season and did a good job finding open shooters when Virginia swarmed him.
“I’d say that’s when we’re at our best because it’s really hard for other teams to guard us,” Dickinson said. “Obviously teams are going to try and send two at me on occasion, and so I trust my guys. When I pass it out, we got guys that can shoot this year, and we showed that in the first half. I think it’s just a matter of shots going in and remaining confident in one another.”
A huge reason Virginia was able to chip away at that first half lead was its ability to get to the rim. The Cavaliers scored 44 points in the paint to Michigan’s 24; the Wolverines know they have to do a better job staying in front of their man and staying disciplined.
“We contain the ball, we just didn’t contain it at a great level,” Williams II said. “Kihei Clark (16 points), he’s very crafty, good point guard, so he was getting to the paint a lot and we had to make some halftime adjustments to try and stop him. But they were getting past us as defenders and we just got to contain the ball more and keep our chest in front of the ball.”
While many believe there’s no such thing as moral victories in sports, to compete like this against one of the best teams in the country after looking shaky the last few weeks has to be a confidence boost for a Michigan team that is now 5-2, but hasn’t had much to celebrate early this season.
“I think it means we obviously are one of the top teams in the country,” Dickinson said. “I know we had a loss earlier in the season, too, and then we were playing some teams tight. But I think today was a really big step for us to go out there and show the country that we are one of the best teams in the country.
“Going toe-to-toe with the No. 3 team in the country, I think it’s just a great step forward for us. We had some games before this where we probably didn’t play as good as we wanted to, we kind of squeaked by a couple games. I think this one was a really big step for us, even though it wasn’t the outcome we wanted, I think it was a good building block for the next game that we play cause that’s going to be another great team as well.”
The team Dickinson was referring to is No. 19 Kentucky, as the Wolverines will take them on in London on Sunday. Hopefully Michigan can learn from the Virginia game and keep playing well against other ranked opponents.
“College basketball, you got to face top teams,” head coach Juwan Howard said. “You always face good teams and we faced a good one tonight; unfortunately we came up short. We can take away a lot of really good things that happened in this ball game. When we come out with the effort we did today over 40 minutes, I love our chances against any team in the country.”