Trailing by one possession in the final four minutes of the game, top-seeded Michigan just couldn’t get a shot to fall down the stretch, and the Wolverines saw their season end with a 51-49 loss to UCLA in the Elite 8.
Michigan missed its final eight shots of the game, including a pair of three-pointers from Mike Smith and Franz Wagner on their final possession.
The opening of the game was an omen what was to follow, as Michigan struggled in its halfcourt offense in the first four minutes – with three turnovers and a 1-for-5 shooting start. The Wolverines’ lone basket came on a steal and breakaway dunk by Brandon Johns Jr.
In the following eight minutes of play, Michigan settled in a bit, connecting on 6 of their next 11 shot attempts. The Wolverines built a 13-6 advantage, before a couple three-pointers from UCLA’s Johnny Juzang cut the lead to 15-12.
Turnovers remained a problem for Michigan as the first half came to a close. The Wolverines had 9 in the opening 20 minutes, and went into halftime trailing the Bruins by a score of 27-23. Juzang carried UCLA through the first half, scoring 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
The Bruins opened the second half with a 7-2 run, stretching their lead to 34-25 with 17 minutes to play.
Michigan responded by force-feeding Hunter Dickinson, and the big man delivered, scoring six straight for the Wolverines. That led to an 8-0 run for Michigan and cut their deficit to one point.
Both teams battled back and forth down the stretch from there, with neither team able to gain an advantage on the other. Trailing by one point, the Wolverines had four consecutive offensive possessions end with a shot in the paint, but couldn’t get anything to drop.
Juzang sank the first of two free throws to stretch UCLA’s lead to two points, but missed the second. Juwan Howard called timeout with six seconds left, and Mike Smith got a clean look at a three after racing up the court, but it went just long.
With half of a second left, Wagner caught the ensuing inbounds pass and heaved one final prayer, but the bank shot deflected off the rim as the final buzzer sounded.
1. A brutal end to a special season
As Michigan got rolling early on in their Big Ten schedule, they started to look like a team that could make some noise come March. As the wins continued to pile up, it became evident that the Wolverines were a bonafide Final Four contender. Michigan won the Big Ten regular season title, and climbed as high as No. 2 in the national polls. But the Wolverines stumbled down the stretch, dropping three of their final five games after opening the season 18-1. More bad news arrived when Isaiah Livers re-aggravated a stress injury in his right foot, which would ultimately sideline him for the remainder of the season, and likely ends his college career. Still, Michigan showed its depth, talent and grit in the first three games of the NCAA tournament, knocking off Texas Southern, LSU and Florida State. There are plenty of good things that will be remembered about this season, but ultimately, falling short of the Final Four can only be categorized as a disappointment.
2. Brown, Davis provide punch off the bench
In a game where scoring was at a premium, the Wolverines’ got excellent production out of its bench. Chaundee Brown did what he’s done throughout this tournament – make big shots. He had 8 points, 6 of which came on a pair of massive three-point field goals. Brown also made a big contribution in the battle on the glass with 9 rebounds. Meanwhile, Austin Davis gave Michigan excellent minutes in reserve for Dickinson. The senior was 3-for-6 for 7 points, and grabbed 3 rebounds. This was likely the final college game of those two guys’ careers, and they left it all on the floor.
3. Franz in a funk
After an outstanding game his last time out against Florida State, Franz Wagner really struggled Tuesday night against the Bruins. The sophomore scored just 4 points on 1-of-10 shooting, and never seemed to get comfortable on the offensive end. Wagner did grab 8 rebounds, and handed out 2 assists, but Michigan really needed more from him in the scoring department. The sophomore will have a decision to make this offseason, and there are plenty of signs that suggest he could be a first round – maybe a lottery pick – in the upcoming NBA Draft. If this was in fact the last time we see Wagner in a Michigan uniform, it would be especially bitter given the kind of career he’s had in Ann Arbor.
4. Dickinson’s second half surge
The freshman didn’t have the type of impact he was expected to make in the first half of tonight’s game, but he responded well in the second half. Dickinson finished with 11 points, and his scoring surge to open the second frame brought life to the Wolverines. Still, the freshman was limited to just two rebounds in 29 minutes of action, and he committed four turnovers. Dickinson is another guy who has a professional decision to make this offseason. He’s old for a freshman – already 20 years old – and that may or may not impact his decision. With more refining to his game, Dickinson is a guy who could be dominant in a potential sophomore season at Michigan, but starting his professional career could prove to be too tempting of an opportunity. Time will tell.
5. Looking ahead to Howard’s Year 3
This isn’t the way anybody in Michigan’s locker room wanted this season to end. It’s a locker room full of seniors – guys who have played nearly-to-over 100 college basketball games. Head coach Juwan Howard and many of the players openly and repeatedly mentioned the ultimate goal of winning the national championship. The Wolverines fell short of that goal, and there’s going to be a lot of turnover on this roster between now and the start of the 2021-22 season. Howard has the nation’s top recruiting class coming to Ann Arbor next season, and there’s plenty to still be excited about with this program. Still, this feels like a missed opportunity, and Howard and company will have a long offseason to think on it.