The Wolverine

February 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2018 THE WOLVERINE 45   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL Three Best Players 1. Junior forward Moritz Wagner Wagner played in eight of Michigan's nine games from Dec. 21-Jan. 21 (he missed the 97-47 win over Alabama A&M Dec. 21 with an injury), and averaged 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in that span. Although redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews ac- tually averaged more points than Wagner during the stretch, Wagner earns the top spot on this list for his heroics in U-M's 82-72 win at then-No. 4 Michigan State Jan. 13. The junior put on an absolute clinic at the Breslin Center, scoring 27 points and blocking five shots, while also making 3 of 4 attempts from behind the three- point arc. He followed that up with another im- pressive performance against Maryland just two days later, tallying 18 points and 11 rebounds. 2. Redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews Matthews' average of 14.3 points per game from Dec. 21-Jan. 21 led the team, and his 5.1 rebounds were second only to Wagner. The redshirt sophomore's best perfor- mance came Dec. 21 against Alabama A&M, when he posted 31 points to be- come just the sixth player since head coach John Beilein took over (2007-08 was his first year) to score 30 or more in a game. Matthews also had an outstanding game against one of the nation's best defenses in then-No. 5 Purdue (No. 4 nation- ally in field goal percentage defense at 37.7) Jan. 9, when he racked up 14 points and seven boards. 3. Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman Abdur-Rahkman's statistics weren't necessarily spectacular in games 14-22, but like Wagner, he stepped up at crucial moments. This was never more evident than at the end of Michigan's thrilling one-point win over Maryland Jan. 15, when he calmly sank two free throws (including the game-winner) with 1.2 seconds remaining and the Wolverines trailing by one. He also scored 20 points in a 76-51 blowout of Jacksonville Dec. 30, which were actually the second most points of his entire career (trailing only the 25 he scored at Purdue on Jan. 7, 2016). Perhaps what has made Abdur-Rahkman so valuable, though, has been his consistency. He averaged 33.8 minutes per game from Dec. 21-Jan. 21, and played at least 36 in four of those nine contests. Key Play With Michigan leading Maryland 66-64 Jan. 15 at Crisler Center, sophomore guard Kevin Huerter nailed a three from the top of the key with just three seconds left to give his the Terrapins a one-point lead. On Michigan's ensuing possession, Maryland decided not to guard freshman forward Isaiah Livers — who was inbounding the ball from under his own basket — and it proved costly. He delivered a perfect strike across half court to Abdur- Rahkman, who immediately began dribbling toward the basket before being tripped by Terrapin freshman center Bruno Fernando. Trailing by one and with the game on the line, Abdur-Rah- kman went to the line and calmly drained both free throws, giving the Wolverines a one-point lead. Huerter's ensuing desperation full-court heave fell harm- lessly as time expired, and the Wolverines escaped with a thrilling 68-67 victory. Best Highlight Holding a 67-61 lead with just 3:10 to go Jan. 13 at then-No. 4 Michigan State, Wagner caught a short pass from Abdur-Rahkman at the top of the key and was immediately blanketed by MSU sophomore center Nick Ward. Wagner then dribbled to his right before impres- sively taking the ball behind his back, causing the 6-8, 245-pound Ward to fall down. Wagner then drove to the hoop for an easy right-handed layup, extending Michigan's lead to 69-61. The bucket was part of an incredible 27-point performance by the junior that helped lead the Wolverines to an 82-72 win at the Breslin Center. Surprise Performer Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson gets the nod here. He was not expected to be the starting point guard coming into the year, but he has seized the position and held onto it. He posted 15-point performances at Iowa Jan. 2 and against then-No. 5 Purdue Jan. 9, as well as a 16-point effort at then- No. 4 Michigan State Jan. 13. Prior to the Iowa contest, Simpson had scored more than 12 points in a game just twice all season. The 6-0 sophomore's assist numbers have also skyrocketed. In fact, in a span of six games from Dec. 30-Jan. 15, Simpson averaged 5.6 dimes per contest while recording seven on two separate occasions. He is also connecting on a team-best 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts, after making just 26.3 percent last year. Bold Prediction Michigan will defeat one of the two remaining top-15 teams left on its schedule. The Wolverines play at No. 3 Purdue Jan. 25 and face No. 13 Ohio State Feb. 18, and will win at least one of those with the latter obviously being the more likely of the two. U-M already has several impressive victories on its résumé (VCU, UCLA, Texas, Michigan State, etc.), but with the Big Ten not being as strong as it usually is, won't have many more op- portunities to add quality wins. A victory over either the Boilermakers or Buckeyes would strengthen U-M's résumé immensely. — Austin Fox SUPERLATIVES FROM GAMES 14-22 Junior Moritz Wagner scored 27 points and blocked five shots to lead U-M to an 82-72 vic- tory at No. 4 Michigan State Jan. 13. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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