Game 10: Michigan at UCLA Recap

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan went three for three with UCLA for 20 minutes in a beautiful first half that was an offensive masterpiece.

Both teams scored 50 points and combined to make 22-of-30 threes for an incredible 1.57 points per possession in the first half — that’s over a point and a half every time down the floor.

In the final 20 minutes, UCLA kept up that pace Michigan ran out of steam. The final result was a 102-84 defeat and a long flight home.

In spite of UCLA’s historic offensive performance, there were still critical moments when the game lay in the balance and was right there for the taking by the visitors. The Wolverines just couldn’t make the plays at crucial times and UCLA did.

Leading by 7 with under two minutes to play in the first half, Michigan allowed UCLA to close the first half with three triples and tie the game. The third late first half run that U-M has allowed to a high-major opponent in the last three chances.

With the game tied coming out of the break, the Wolverines missed three shots around the basket and a pair of threes and found themselves down 8 before the under 16 timeout. They’d be playing catch up for the rest of the game.

With the lead back down to 5 points and under 8 minutes left on the clock, UCLA missed a pair of free throws that would have allowed the Wolverines a chance at cutting the deficit to a single possession. Instead Michigan failed to corral the rebound as the ball fell to TJ Leaf for an easy basket.

UCLA went on to finish the game on a 25-12 run and that was that. It sounds crazy given the final score, but those three blips in the game cemented the final result.


Michigan’s defense just wasn’t good enough to get the job done. While the Bruins appear to have a truly elite offense, the Wolverines can’t allow any team to score 1.58 points per possession and hope to win. The game dropped Michigan’s adjusted defensive efficiency from 34th to 60th on KenPom and 1.58 points per possession allowed marks U-M’s worst defensive performance of the KenPom era (2002+).

I thought that there were a few decent moments in the first half for the Wolverines where they they forced UCLA to make a tough shot, but in the second half everything unraveled.

“I thought (in) the first half, we got open looks and they didn’t,” Beilein noted after the game. “And we still shot the same.”

The second half was a much different story as UCLA got to the rim with ease and made 20-of-27 shots in the final period. Steve Alford went primarily with some dribble weave action until he could exploit either Duncan Robinson or Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman off the drive.

It’s hard to put into words just how dangerous this UCLA offense is. The Bruins are shooting 61.6% on twos and 47.1% on threes for the season and their 80.2 eFG% tonight looks ridiculous because it is, but their average eFG% (65.1%) is closer to the ceiling of a normal team.

On the other hand, this was also UCLA’s best offensive outing of the season and a stern reminder that Michigan’s defense still has some significant vulnerabilities. This team still has to try to hide several individual defensive deficiencies on the perimeter and has big men who get in foul trouble and don’t do a great job of protecting the rim.  UCLA has more tools to exploit those weaknesses than other teams, but that doesn’t mean that other teams can’t and won’t try to do the same thing.

Michigan managed to play its third-best offensive game of the season, hit 14 threes, and still lost by 18. The offense played with the same incredible efficiency as the Bruins in the first half thanks to torrid three-point shooting, but cooled off the second. UCLA has plenty of its own defensive demons to work out, but playing on the road in front of a sold out crowd the Wolverines made shots early and often.

Michigan shot just 47% inside the arc and its inability to finish over length at the rim was perhaps the biggest issue in an otherwise stellar offensive showing.

What’s next? Michigan needs to handle business in three tune-ups before opening the Big Ten in Iowa City against another high-tempo, offense-first group on the road. A 3-loss non-conference performance would probably qualify as a passing ‘B’ grade, but the Big Ten will be the real test.

Player Bullets

  • Zak IrvinIrvin finished with 18 points on 7-of-14 (4-of-6) shooting, 7 assists and 5 rebounds and he was really clicking in the first half when Michigan was playing its best ball. I thought a big key was that he took good three-point shots, usually off the catch, and attacked off the bounce. He settled for a few mid-range jumpers, but he also made some good ball screen feeds.
  • Derrick WaltonWalton finished with 9 points, 4 rebounds and two assists. He was one of the only Wolverines not to get hot from three, but had some good moments attacking the rim in the second half.
  • DJ WilsonWilson was knocking in threes and scored on a post-up over Ball in the first half. I loved his aggressiveness right out of the gate in the second, but he missed a pair of shots around the rim that needed to be baskets. Wilson has sorted out the rebounding fouls, but now he keeps fouling shooters on closeouts. He fouled Ball on a pair of three-point attempts and did the same thing earlier in the week against Texas. He also struggled defensively against TJ Leaf, but I think we’ll be saying that about quite a few guys by the end of the year.
  • Mark DonnalAfter a few down games, Donnal stepped in and provided some great minutes and an offensive boost. He had 12 points on perfect shooting including a pair of threes and a baseline jumper in 28 minutes.
  • Moritz WagnerWagner scored 11 points in 20 minutes, but just couldn’t stay on the floor through foul trouble. He’s improved defensive and avoiding fouls, but it seemed like every time he started to gain some confidence he ended up back on the bench with a cheap foul.
  • Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman: Abdur-Rahkman is really struggling defensively in multiple ways and it cost Michigan a few times. It seems like every blown defensive switch includes one or both of Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson. Muhammad did have some really nice takes to the basket against Bryce Alford for one stretch, but he finished just 4-of-11 from the floor.
  • Duncan Robinson:  Duncan had some great moments in the first half, both from three and attacking the basket. In the second, he missed his only three-point attempt and struggled to deal with UCLA’s length around the rim when he attacked. He has the right idea, but needs to continue to grow more consistent in that regard.
  • Xavier SimpsonSimpson played 9 minutes and recorded an assist, two turnovers and a steal. It is good to get him some game action, but he also had quite a few moments where it became clear that he wasn’t quite ready for this stage.
  • Fab 5 Legends

    Good performance by UM regardless of the outcome. I think if we had this offensive performance against VT, SC we get those W’s…5 players in double digits is a great sign…playing #2 team in the country we were competitive for most of the game…UCLA is a final 4 team and has a great collection of upper-classman and 1 and done Freshmens…

    I don’t see us having more than a 7 man rotation at this point to start BigTen play…X, Ibi are not there yet and Beilein does not trust them…Teske seems like he can battle for rebounds and change shots but frontcourt is crowded…hopefully by mid-January …1 of the freshmen can contribute

    Lots of positives can be taken from this game, forget the final score…UCLA is legitimately a title contender, they have everything going for them, barring injuries, no team will want to see them in March

  • Joseph Marra

    Hit 14 3s and they still lose by 18, This team will place behind PSU and Neb in B1G this year or maybe even Rutgers.

    • polisci

      Why? Because PSU, Neb, and Rutgers have historically good offenses too?

      • Drae

        They’ll be fine… they ran out of gas at the end… this is the number 2 team on their court… there is only a handful of teams in the big 10 that are good… Wisconsin, purdue and Indiana… if they play like this in big 10 play they’ll be good… hoping a freshman figures it out soon and can contribute. I would also like to see teske get more minutes, maybe go to a 2 big man set more…

    • GTFOmycourt

      We played like a top 20 team. They played like the number one team in the country displaying what might be their best offensive performance of the year.

      • Joseph Marra

        That’s just it we aren’t a top 20 team, They don’t play defence . UCLA didn’t even make tourney last year but they went out and recruited . Ball & Leaf 2 of the best freshman in USA. Noe there 1# in country. You have to have talent to be at top 25 leval.

        • Jack Simms

          I agree
          but i’ll take it furthet
          no Michigan player has the talent of tj leaf, lonzo ball, and maybe not even holliday or hamilton

        • MAZS

          There’s a big gap between not being a Top 20 team and finishing behind Nebraska, Penn State and Rutgers. Nice hyperbole.

        • MAZS

          nice after-the-fact edit

    • bebopson

      LOL. Troll alert.

    • tom48160

      If Michigan hits 14 threes against Rutgers or Nebraska, they win in a laugher. Guaran-damn-teed.

  • jlustig22

    The first half was incredible but I knew our shooting would come back to earth and we would be in trouble in the 2nd half. UCLA is just loaded. Our defense was pretty awful, but they are going to be a handful for any team to stop. Regardless, that was serious high level basketball.

    Wagner and Wilson have to stop committing stupid fouls. They made some nice plays offensively but they didn’t rebound at all and provided little interior defense. For all of Wilson’s length, I don’t see him altering many shots. I am not surprised Leaf abused him a few times but he needs to protect the rim much better and come down with more traffic rebounds.

    It was good to see Rahk at least be aggressive offensively with his signature drives. On the other hand, what is up with his defense. I expect players to blow by Robinson but Rahk is getting consistently driven by as well. His defense has been really poor this season.

    I am worried about Simpson. There’s no way anyone would have predicted he would be so bad to start his college career. Not to say he still won’t turn out to be a good player or at least I really hope so, but we all thought he would make an instant impact.

  • MGoTweeter

    I thought Michigan played thirty minutes of really good basketball. Agree completely with beilein in that in the first half, I think Michigan had the advantage in terms of open shots, at least from three. It seemed like a lot of the shots were coming off of good action or after some penetration. Even starting the second, Michigan had a good plan of attacking the rim unfortunately they couldn’t finish.

    Defensively in the first half, besides leaf abusing Wilson (he is going to do that to almost everyone) and some easy transition baskets, Michigan challenged most of the ucla shots. I even thought they had some great rotations in chase situations.

    That last ten minutes or so, however, were ugly. The offense seemed to devolve back to little to no movement and a lot of one on one action with the occasional quick three. While the defense came completely unraveled. If ucla wanted a layup, they got a layup. If they wanted an open three, they got an open three. Beyond the obvious physical limitations for this Michigan defense which Dylan mentioned, I think there were two issues.

    The first was I just think the guys were a little shook by the shooting and terrified of sagging off anyone. That’s understandable, fixable and probably something we won’t see against any other team because I do think uclas offense is that elite. The second issue im not sure is fixable, and that is lack of rotation. It’s hard to play a game like that, especially on the road, with little substituting in the backcourt and not see a drop off in play. It just felt like guys got tired, we’re not as sharp mentally and every action was just way too late on defense.
    Unfortunately, I don’t see how they get guys more rest this season as neither Simpson nor Watson look like options right now.

    Ucla is gonna light up a lot of teams this year, as they have already, so I don’t think this game should send anyone into panic mode. However, i do think it shows that this Michigan defense is far from fixed and that they still have some really big limitations with this roster unless some of the younger guys make some big jumps.

  • A2MIKE

    This game is what it felt like to play us in 2013 or 2014 when the offense was clicking. I remember beating teams with similar offensive ruthlessness.

    The thing that has me worried is that the team outside of Irvin had only 9 assists for 22 made buckets and 7 turnovers on a night when Irvin and Robinson seemed hot. The PG position is a net negative for Michigan in these bigger games and that can’t continue.

    Beilein needs an elite PG that can distribute the ball.

    • Jdubb40

      Well let’s sit Dwalt for remainder of the year an see what happens.

      • A2MIKE

        I am not saying that. There is no alternative. I just don’t see this offense returning to that elite level without an elite PG. Walton is the guy, like it or not. Ideally he would be a 2 guard, but we don’t have that option.

  • GDW

    Our team just couldn’t keep up because of fatigue (not to mention ucla couldn’t miss). I’m starting to think we need to get Wagner some reps at the 4 spot the problem will be the defense against quicker players. I think Teske is capable of giving us 5-10 min a game. X will eventually give us some contribution. I think he will grow these next few games.

    • Wayman Britt

      I agree Beilein should give Teske a few more minutes. I sure hope you are right about X growing, so far he has shown he is not ready. He is finding it extremely hard to get his shot off with the bigger players in college. I know he scored a lot in H.S., but I think his lack of an outside shot and small height is creating problems for his offense game. Looks like DW is going to log a lot minutes this year, just hope the wear doesn’t show in March.

      • tom48160

        I’m a bit distressed to see that X isn’t even shooting the ball at all. Maybe it gets swatted, maybe not, but on a drive you’ve gotta give defenses a reason to rotate multiple players your way. X may have difficulty getting his shot off, but he’s gotta be a threat to shoot when he drives. Defenders are staying with their man for the most part, so he’s been kicking the ball out to the perimeter. I’d like to see him at least try to test the defense so that he forces rotations in future trips down the floor.

  • Jdubb40

    Hey these young men put it out on the court against the best offensive team in the country. UCLA just had the hot hand of the night. An as the pg goes, right now we only playing Dwalt. Once again this guy distribute the ball , guys have to make shots. I would rather see dwalt hunt his shot more then pass

    • Chris De Sana

      Coach needs to find a way for Walton and Irvin to get rest, the question is what does that look like? Probably going bigger until X is able to hold his own (but he also needs more minutes), so maybe moving Moe to the 4 and DJ to the 3 and bringing in Teske which in my opinion means they should consider playing a 2/3 match up zone. This way they can rotate MAAR, Irvin and Walton at the guard spots.

  • mikey_mac

    UM’s “big” lineup was still not as big as any unit UCLA put on the floor. UM’s “shooting” lineup still was not as good at shooting as any unit UCLA put on the floor. That team is scary good — very much reminiscent of UM’s championship game team, but bigger and more versatile.