The Wolverine

March 2018

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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84 THE WOLVERINE MARCH 2018   MICHIGAN BASKETBALL Three Best Players 1. Senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahman Abdur-R ahk man led Michigan in scoring (16.4 points per game) in the team's seven-game stretch from Jan. 25 to Feb. 18. He also averaged 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game in that span, but the main reason he claims the top spot on this list is because of his clutch per- formances late in contests. In U-M's thrilling 76-73 overtime win over Minne- sota Feb. 3, the senior won the game with an impres- sive three-point play when the contest was tied with just 3.8 seconds remaining in the extra session. O n Fe b. 1 8 a g a i n s t then-No. 8 Ohio State, Abdur-Rahkman nailed a crucial three from the top of the key with the Wolverines leading 62-53 and just 3:15 to go, crushing any hopes of a Buckeyes comeback. Perhaps his most impressive performance of all, though, occurred Jan. 25 in a 92-88 loss at then-No. 3 Purdue, when he poured in a career-high 26 points. 2. Junior forward Moritz Wagner Wagner averaged 15.0 points and 7.7 rebounds from Jan. 25 to Feb. 18, and narrowly missed out on the top spot on this list. The junior enjoyed back-to-back 20-point performances against Northwestern Feb. 6 and at Wisconsin Feb. 11, while also pulling down 20 rebounds between the two games. Almost as importantly as his statistics, though, has been his ability to stay out of foul trouble (something that has plagued him his whole career). Wagner played at least 23 minutes in all seven games, and tallied 28 or more in four of the seven, high- lighted by a 39-minute performance against Minnesota Feb. 3. 3. Redshirt sophomore guard Charles Matthews Matthews' scoring output (9.8 points per game) in the aforementioned span was significantly lower than the two other players on the list, but his 6.5 rebounds per contest were the second-most on the team. Matthews' best showing came in the overtime win over Minnesota Feb. 3, when he recorded his second double- double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Although the redshirt sophomore's shots weren't neces- sarily falling at a high rate from Jan. 25 to Feb. 18, he made up for it with his defense and rebounding. In fact, he pulled down at least six boards in five of the seven contests. Key Play With Michigan leading Minnesota 73-71 in overtime Feb. 3, Gopher redshirt junior forward Davonte Fitzgerald easily drove to the hoop and laid the ball in to knot the game at 73 with just 11 seconds left. Sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson then inbounded to Abdur-Rahkman, who calmly dribbled the ball up the court as the game's final seconds ticked away. He paused for a moment three steps behind the three- point line, before driving full speed to the basket. The senior then put on an impressive spin move to his right and scored with just 3.8 seconds remaining, while being fouled by Minnesota freshman guard Jamir Harris in the process. Abdur-Rahkman sank the ensuing free throw, and then watched as Gopher senior point guard Nate Mason's despera- tion heave fell harmlessly short, giving Michigan a 76-73 win. The Wolverines avoided what would have been a horren- dous loss to a Gophers team that was 3-8 in conference play at the time. Best Highlight In U-M's fierce battle with then-No. 8 Ohio State Feb. 18, the Wolverines led 65-55 with just 2:15 left in the game. A three-point attempt by OSU redshirt junior forward Keita Bates-Diop fell short and right into the hands of Simpson, who ran it down just behind the three-point line. The sophomore was immediately sandwiched by Bates- Diop and Buckeyes sophomore guard Andre Wesson, but still managed to fire off a pass to a waiting Wagner, who was all alone on the other side of the court. The only Buckeye who had time to catch up to him was junior point guard C.J. Jackson, but the 6-1 guard was no match for the 6-11 German. Wagner easily scored while being fouled by Jackson, then faced the crowd and flexed his arms for all to see, resulting in a Crisler Center eruption. His ensuing free throw gave the Wolverines a 68-55 lead with 2:12 to go. Surprise Performer Fifth-year senior point guard Jaaron Simmons has been a non-factor for the majority of the season, but played some of his best basketball in a Michigan uniform down the stretch. Simmons' most productive contest as a Wolverine came in a 74-59 win over Iowa Feb. 14, when he scored five points and dished out four assists. The fifth-year senior also nailed a crucial three-pointer the game before at Wisconsin Feb. 11, giving him as many threes (two) in that two-game span as he had all year. No one is suggesting Simmons will take Simpson's start- ing job, but the productive minutes he has provided off the bench have been a huge asset. Bold Prediction Michigan will at least make it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach John Beilein's teams have fared incredibly well in the Big Dance during his tenure in Ann Arbor, and have made it to the Sweet 16 (or further) in three of their last four NCAA Tournament appearances. The Wolverines have proved several times this season how dangerous they can be (an 82-72 victory at then-No. 4 Michigan State Jan. 13 and a 74-62 win over then-No. 8 Ohio State Feb. 18) and always seem to play their best basketball in March. — Austin Fox SUPERLATIVES IN GAMES FROM JAN. 25-FEB. 18 During a seven-game stretch from Jan. 25 to Feb. 18, senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahman led the Wolverines in scoring with 16.4 points per game. He also averaged 3.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds per contest during that stretch. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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