By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – With the departures of stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. after last season, Michigan needed someone to step up and fill the role of go-to guy. With 26 points against N0. 10 Iowa, sophomore Nik Stauskas cemented himself in that role Wednesday night.
“He just has an ability right now that’s very rare to get his own shot, to get to the rim, to make foul shots, to draw fouls,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said. “I don’t know if I ever get surprised too much. I love his growth.
“For a shooter and a scorer, he’s really embraced defense,” Beilein added, “did a great job on Aaron White in the first half, had a foul early and then came back and played pretty good defense.”
White got his points late in the game, scoring 13 straight in the second half to keep the Hawkeyes close to the end. White finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but overall Stauskas undoubtedly won the matchup.
Even Stauskas, though, will say it was not easy.
“He did a great job in the second half posting me up,” Stauskas said. “It was tough just with the amount they cut without the ball. Sometimes I’m trying to front him, they throw it over, and then other times where I’m playing behind, he just backs me down, gets open layups. That was definitely tough in the second half, but offensively, I feel like there’s just very few people who can stay in front of me right now when I’m aggressive. So I just tried to attack him.
“Especially in the first half … a lot of times I just felt like he wasn’t laterally quick enough to stay in front of me, so I was just trying to do everything I could,” Stauskas continued, “just make moves to get to the basket, if he played off me I got some step-in 3s, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”
Not only did Stauskas score, he scored in all the right places, perfectly capping various sequences.
He hit one from beyond the arc to start the second half, widening Michigan’s lead to 41-34 right out of the gate. When Iowa faltered in a sequence that included an offensive foul, turnover and missed dunk, Stauskas further commandeered the momentum for Michigan, nailing a triple that gave the Wolverines a 50-43 lead.
Holding up three fingers after his made shots, Stauskas infused his team with energy, and Beilein appreciated it.
“I’d make his 3 sign up to my eye, but you’d all get a picture, and that would be in the paper, so you’re not going to see that,” Beilein said with a smile. “We work at that, but you know he really enjoys that, and I’ve just got to – I mean the team does feed off that. This team has evolved. I’ve evolved. There’s more lob passes, there’s more of that stuff where we all continue to grow. He’s going to keep that in line. We don’t want technical fouls or show anybody up.”
Though Beilein has been surprised by Stauskas’s attention to defense even though his primary job is scoring, the guard’s enhanced production this season has hardly taken Beilein by surprise.
“We did see it last year,” Beilein said. “We saw all these things because we play this five-second, one-on-one game where he’s playing all these games. He’s got tricks, now, with the ball, but we didn’t need another guy – we had Trey and Tim last year. You guys didn’t see that; we saw that. But his strength was in the way, his speed, maybe was in the way, but he’s just got this moxie on the court that he feels the game so well.”
The next step for Stauskas and the Wolverines will be taking down rival Michigan State in East Lansing. With both teams 6-0 in Big Ten play and ranked in the Top 25, this Saturday’s matchup should be a compelling one. If Stauskas does as well in that game as he did Wednesday, it would be a major boost for Michigan.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was impressed by the guard.
“The amazing thing about him has been his consistency all year,” McCaffery said. “He’s obviously somebody that everybody marks when they get ready to play Michigan, yet he’s still able to get shots out of the offense, get shots on his own. He’s really doing a lot off the dribble. His length helps him there.
“He’s got great range, obviously,” McCaffery added. “He’s tremendous.”