death to the kohl center anyway
If you happen to have tickets to a Michigan basketball home game, show up an hour before tipoff. You'll see Nik Stauskas shooting his way around the three-point arc. Many of these aren't just any shots—the between-the-legs stepback is an integral part of his arsenal. He rarely misses. It's a joy to watch.
As Michigan stood on the precipice of another heartbreaking loss at the Kohl Center, Stauskas matched up against Wisconsin freshman Nigel Hayes. He hit him with the stepback. Collectively, we stepped back, too—off the ledge, and into a glorious world full of Muppets and unprecedented road wins.
U-M official says this is highest-ranked road win ever, surpassing beating No. 5 Duke in 1964
— Mark Snyder (@Mark__Snyder) January 19, 2014
Stauskas put together an MVP-worthy performance, scoring 16 of his game-high 23 points in the second half, including Michigan's final 11 points of the game. While Stauskas got plenty of help from Caris LeVert (20 points) and Glenn Robinson III (14), he was the driving force behind an offense that put up 1.16 points per trip in this one; the Badgers couldn't corral him as he repeatedly darted into the lane, creating open pull-up jumpers for himself or slipping the ball down low to a teammate—Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan combined for a perfect 6/6 mark from the field.
Tasked with producing just about all of the offense, Stauskas and LeVert had their slipups—collectively shooting 14/32 from the field with six turnovers doesn't always bode well. However, LeVert managed to get layups out of otherwise stagnant possessions—including an and-one in which he swiped a rebound from an unsuspecting Frank Kaminsky—and, when he sputtered in the late going, Stauskas simply took over.
LeVert also played a huge role in Michigan jumping out to a lead to begin with, drilling a pair of triples in the first five minutes when Wisconsin lost him on the perimeter. Stauskas had an early three of his own, Robinson added two near-identical jumpers from the elbow after curling around screens, and the Wolverines found themselves up ten at the midway point of the first half.
Wisconsin kept fighting back on the strength of big-time performances from Ben Brust (14 points, 5/10 FG) and Josh Gasser (16 points, 4/5 3-pt), the men responsible for two particularly brutal Wolverine losses. Every time Michigan threatened to blow the game open, they'd tighten the margin, with a Brust jumper cutting the halftime margin to just five. The Wolverines had shot 61% to that point—including a 4/5 mark from beyond the arc—and a second-half run felt inevitable.
It happened—of course it did—after a LeVert layup pushed the lead to 13 with eight minutes to play. As is the norm at Kohl, it was brutally slow. Both teams went scoreless for two minutes before Gasser hit a three-pointer. Then the floodgates briefly opened, with Wisconsin scoring on each of their next three possessions to make it a one-basket game before Stauskas stopped the bleeding with a two-point jumper.
The Badgers would get as close as one point when Brust, initially stymied by Morgan, wouldn't be denied a layup. But after empty possessions from both teams, Stauskas stepped back and delivered the blow that sent Wisconsin reeling, though the Badgers didn't hit the canvas until stringing out the game at the free throw line. After six consecutive makes at the charity stripe, Stauskas' work was done.
For tonight, anyway. Tomorrow, he'll be back in the gym practicing those stepbacks, because he'll never stop working until he never misses.