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January 10, 2013

Wolverines adapt to aggressive Nebraska D

The Michigan basketball team has thrived in transition opportunities this offense, using its supreme athleticism to get behind defenses and create easy scoring chances.

Last weekend, in a 95-67 win over Iowa, the Wolverines overcame a sluggish start and kickstarted the offense by turning long rebounds and turnovers into fastbreak points.

But that's not so easy every game - especially when the opponent is bound and determined to stop it.

Wednesday night, the Wolverines squared off against the grind-it-out style of Nebraska, who actively tried to slow the pace of the game, with 35-second possessions on offense and sending three - sometimes four - defenders back immediately after the shot.

Although the Cornhuskers' strategy resulted in a 17-rebound advantage for Michigan (47 to 30), it almost meant fewer chances for the Wolverines to get out and push the pace. And a slower game meant a lower score, as Michigan won 62-47.

"Western Michigan did it with us. They weren't as athletic as this team, though," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Nebraska could beat us down the floor. They would send one or two to the boards, but the other guys were back. They had three men back. We had to get clean rebounds, get rid of it, and then we had several times where we had opportunities.

"They probably guarded Nik [Stauskas] in transition better than anyone. They always found him. That's where Nik has been getting his points lately, in penetration and people forgetting that he's out there in transition. They never left him alone."

Stauskas, who came into the game as the No. 2 three-point shooter in the country (53.7 percent), struggled to find open looks as a result. He shot just 2-of-6 from behind the arc, finishing with 13 points.

But it wasn't just Stauskas who struggled.

The Wolverines, forced to either run a half-court offense all game or try to force the issue against a defensive game plan geared to stop an up-tempo style, shot just 38.9 percent from the floor (21-of-54) and made just three of 17 three-point attempts.

"It's kind of frsutrating, but coach tells us not to get frustrated," sophomore point guard Trey Burke said. "We have to continue to play and find shots where we can. I think once we stopped looking at the offensive end and prioritizing defense, that's when we got up to a 10 or 11-point lead.

"Shots weren't falling tonight. What made us pull it out tonight was our defense. That's an area we're trying to get better at, and if we can get stops like that, we can win an ugly game."

Suddenly without a scoring avenue that has been open all season, the young Wolverines adapted on the fly.

And although it wasn't always pretty, Michigan still won by 15 points, while the young players gained an excellent learning experience.

"They kind of took our transition offense away," freshman Glenn Robinson III said. When we got rebounds, they already had four or five guys back. It kind of slowed the game down, and the score was really low. But we just had to find a way to win within our half-court offense.

"It really didn't change anything. They did a good job slowing down transition, and we had to execute. I thought we did a good job, but we just didn't knock down shots.

"It was a little bit frustrating, but we knew that was in their game plan, and I thought we did a good job with it."

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