Arizona’s athletic front line too much for Wolverines

For 30 minutes Saturday, Michigan made a strong statement about how good they can be without Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr.

In the last 10 minutes, Arizona showed why they are the number-one team in the country.

The top-ranked Wildcats overcame an 11-point second-half deficit with an overpowering inside game and escaped the Crisler Center with a 72-70 victory.

“This was a real test for us, because when we were trying to close out a game last season, everyone watched to see what Trey and Tim were going to do,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Today, we had some guys step up and make plays, but we didn’t quite do enough to get the win.”

The Wolverines tested Arizona’s highly-rated defense, shooting 50 percent from the floor and becoming the first team to reach 70 points against the Wildcats. Glenn Robinson III led the way with 20 points, including 16 as Michigan built a first-half lead, and Caris LeVert stepped up when Robinson only managed four points in the second half. Nik Stauskas, who has added a strong penetration game to his 3-point shot, finished with 15.

“Obviously, it is easier to be excited when you are the winning team, but this was an incredible battle,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “This is great college basketball in December, and as good a non-conference win as you can get in the country, bar none.”

Robinson was 7-for-7 in the first half, but only got off two shots in the second half.

“If you looked at the box score, the biggest difference was Robinson,” Miller said. “He hadn’t missed a shot and he had all those points. We talked a lot about him at the half, and we put Brandon Ashley on him for most of the second half. Brandon did a great job, but you pretty much have to have your entire team help stop that kid.”

Michigan, on the other hand, couldn’t stop Arizona’s athletic front line — a group whose offensive rebounding prowess draws comparisons to the Pistons trio of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. Ashley, Aaron Gordon, and Kaleb Tarczewski combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds, including seven offensive rebounds. Arizona finished the game with 17 offensive boards, pulling down 48.6 percent of their own missed shots.

“We only scored two second-choice points in the first half, because Michigan was doing a job against us,” Miller said. “They don’t have a traditional center or power forward, but they are long and athletic. We made some adjustments in the second half and we were able to take more advantage of our size.”

Arizona was especially tough inside as they rallied down the stretch, cutting off Michigan’s post offense and repeatedly finding second and third shots when they had the ball. The Wolverines couldn’t come up with a stop in the final eight minutes, especially once the Wildcats got into the bonus.

Arizona made its first 14 free throws, including 10 straight in the second half. Even the only miss turned out to be perfectly timed. With Michigan out of timeouts and only 1.4 seconds left, Gabe York banked a shot off the front rim. That only allowed Stauskas time for a 60-footer that missed at the buzzer.

“I wish we had had thought to tell Gabe to miss that, because it worked out really well when he did,” Miller said. “We were going to be a huge favorite either way, but that ended up helping us out.”

The miss dropped Michigan to 6-4, a year after they started 16-0, but Beilein couldn’t feel too bad after seeing the Wildcats up close.

“This was a great basketball game, and we would have loved to get the win,” he said. “Arizona is just a really good team. I don’t remember the last time a team that good has come into our building.”