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April 2, 2013

Mitch McGary: U-M's postseason breakout star

It was incredible, in a way - one shot falling after the next, eliciting a more ecstatic expression from the shooter each time the ball smoothly slid through the twine at the bottom of the net.

In Sunday's 79-59 win over Florida in the Elite Eight, freshman guard Nik Stauskas hit six three-pointers, the majority of which came from the same corner of the floor, which left some fans wondering, "How could the Gators possibly allow him to shoot from the same spot time and time again?"

It's simple: Florida had no other choice. And although it was Stauskas who made the shots and lit up the box score, it was another freshman who was the catalyst for his success.

Center Mitch McGary has become such a force in the paint, Gator defenders were flocking inside to crash down on him, especially in transition, which opened Stauskas up outside all day.

"Pretty much all the looks I got were off him," Stauskas said. "He was requiring a lot of attention down low, rolling to the basket, and the guys were forced to help down on him, and I was open in the corner. A lot of what we do offensively, it works well when we have a big who's dominant down low."

McGary has exploded onto the national scene since the NCAA Tournament kicked off - and is a major reason why the Wolverines are now just two wins away from claiming the program's second National Championship.

McGary averaged 6.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game through the regular season - but he has stepped up in the postseason and has helped lead the Wolverines to the Final Four.

In Michigan four NCAA Tournament wins, McGary has notched two double-doubles and posted career-highs in points (25 vs. Kansas) and rebounds (14 vs. VCU and Kansas).

He is averaging 17.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament.

"I'm just staying in the moment and staying focused," McGary said. "I'm happy I'm making this run, but it's all because of my teammates. If I didn't have [Trey Burke], I wouldn't get the easy looks that I am. If I didn't have Tim [Hardaway], Glenn [Robinson] and Nik [Stauskas] - the guys they're keying on the most - then I wouldn't be getting easy baskets.

"It's because of my teammates that I am doing so well, getting easy baskets and having such great games. I compliment them every day. My dad always told me, 'Stay level-headed and humble every day, and if you ever get cocky, I'll teach you a lesson when you get home.' I took that advice."

Since first arriving on campus, McGary has dropped 20 pounds - slimming down and conditioning himself to withstand the extra minutes he has been given during this late-season run.

"He was definitely talented when he came in, but he wasn't in shape the way he should have been," Burke said. "Once the coaches helped him lose some weight, it allowed him to be more mobile, run the court, be able to play defense for longer. It led to overall growth in his game.

"I started to see changes a couple games before the tournament. He was playing with more confidence. I could tell he wanted to be out on the court, helping his team. In the tournament, he has really been our most outstanding player. He gets us extra opportunities on offense. He is rebounding on defense. He plays with 110 percent."

Although his numbers have spiked, McGary's presence down low has also opened up opportunities for the Wolverines' guards - where defenses could focus on the back court more heavily just a few weeks ago.

"He' being that big man who can go out there, fill the lanes, set screens, roll to the basket and collapse the defense to give our guards wide-open shots," Hardaway said. "He does a great job, and he needs to keep doing it for us to be successful."

"I knew I needed to step up in the Tournament," McGary added. "They gave me the starting job, and I knew I needed to bring the energy if we wanted to win. That's why I came here - to get to the Final Four."


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