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January 22, 2014

Stauskas lights up Hawkeyes in U-M win

Nik Stauskas has never been shy about or tried to hide his confidence.

He is, after all, the player who called himself the best shooter in the country, during his true freshman campaign last year.

--Box Score: U-M 75, Iowa 67--

But now, after transforming into one of the Big Ten's most dangerous offensive weapons and dropping 26 points on No. 10 Iowa in a 75-67 Michigan victory Wednesday night, Stauskas is backing it up.

So when he said, "Offensively, I feel like there are very few people that can stay in front of me right now when I am aggressive," after the win over the Hawkeyes, it's hard to argue.

"I came out with a mindset today to be aggressive, and that is pretty much it," Stauskas said. "In the first half, [Iowa junior forward] Aaron White was matched up with me, and a lot of times, I felt like he wasn't laterally quick enough to stay in front of me. I was trying everything I could to make moves toward the basket, and if he played off me, I had some step-in threes. I was just trying to be aggressive."

Stauskas drilled his first four shots of the game to set the tone, and then kept it rolling.

He finished with 26 points, tying a career-high set in Michigan's 82-80 overtime win over Florida State in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off this season, on 8-of-14 shooting, including a 4-of-9 mark from three-point range.

He added five rebounds, five assists, a block and a steal against just two turnovers to complete a stat line that any guard would drool over.

Stauskas has now gone over the 20-point mark nine times this season, after scoring 20 or more points three times all of last season.

"Stausky had it going tonight," sophomore point guard Spike Albrecht said. "He is a big-time player. He is so versatile. He can shoot, go off the dribble. He sees the court so well. The development he has had since last year is huge for our team this year."

And whenever Stauskas really started to pour it on, and the Iowa defense started to crash down on him, Stauskas had the court awareness to find outlets inside or out.

"When he is playing like he did tonight, it makes it really hard for defenses to key on certain people, because they have to key in so much on Nik, and then he can drop passes off to me or a shooter," said fifth-year senior forward Jordan Morgan, who finished with 12 points on five made field goals, three of which were assisted by Stauskas. "It makes us a hard team to stop. Heis playing with a high level of confidence right now, and we're going to keep boosting it as much as possible."

Stauskas has been particularly on fire recently.

In the Wolverines' last three games, all wins, Stauskas has poured in 21 points against Penn State, 23 points in a win at No. 9 Wisconsin and, of course, 26 Wednesday night against the Hawkeyes.

As Stauskas' level of play continues to increase, so does talk of his future, especially after his father, Paul, told SI.com, "He knows all he has to do is keep his nose to the grindstone for another couple of months, and there's a really good possibility he might be able to go pro," earlier this week.

But the sharpshooter isn't concerning himself with that kind of talk right now, in the middle of a season that, with a strong finish, could end with the Wolverines' second Big Ten Championship in three years.

"I apologize for my father's comments," Stauskas said. "He doesn't know what he's talking about. I haven't really thought anything about that yet. We'll just address it after the season."

For now, he's simply playing ball.

"He has an ability right now that is very rare," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He can make his own shot, get to the rim, make foul shots, draw fouls. I don't know if I ever get surprised by him too much. I love his growth. For a shooter and a scorer, he has really embraced defense. He did a great job on White in the first half and played pretty good defense."

After scoring just one point in the opening half on Stauskas, White finished with 17 in the game.

"He did a great job in the second half of posting me up," Stauskas said. "It was tough, with the amount that they cut without the ball. Sometimes, I'm trying to front him, and they throw it over, or I'm playing behind, and he makes me down and has an open layup. That was tough in the second half."

Stauskas' defense was a major knock on his last season, but he has strived to amp up that part of his game.

"I understand that I am not the best defender in the world, and teams are going to attack me," he said. 'That is exactly what teams used to do to me last year. They would have four down with my guy at the top of the key and just go at me. I understand that teams are going to do that, and I have to be prepared."


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