ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan players heard the comparison Louisville coach Rick Pitino threw out about them during last weekend’s opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis. After Michigan made 11 of 15 3-pointers in the second half of a 92-91 win against Oklahoma State in the first round, Pitino said his team was going to get ready to play “the Golden State Warriors” in the second round.
That naturally prompted Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s senior point guard, to ask: “Who is who?”
Good question, Derrick, and one that was debated throughout the Wolverines’ locker room.
- Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman claimed Klay Thompson.
- D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner both said they were Kevin Durant (the healthy version).
- Is there any doubt that Walton is Stephen Curry?
- But everyone steered clear of being former Michigan State Spartan Draymond Green.
“There was a lot of arguing about it, just joking around,” said senior Zak Irvin, who then noted out a key point about Michigan’s subsequent 73-69 win against Louisville, a victory that sent the Wolverines into the Sweet 16 and a match-up against Oregon on Thursday night in Kansas City:
“I think it’s nice for us to be able to beat Louisville not making a lot of 3s, being able to switch up and get to the basket,” Irvin said.
Michigan made just 6 of 17 3-pointers against Louisville but still shot 49.1 percent overall from the field by making 22 of 40 attempts inside the arc. Wagner (KD 1A) scored a career-high 26 points, making 11 of his 14 shot attempts. He made the only 3-pointer he took. Wilson (KD 1B) likes to show off what he can do from the perimeter but he took just a trio of 3-pointers (1 make), and went 5 of 10 on 2-point attempts in scoring 17 points.
Walton was just 3 of 13 from the field against Louisville but still scored 10 points while adding 7 rebounds, 6 assists and zero turnovers.
“This is a loose bunch that’s having fun,” Walton said. “D.J. said he’s Kevin Durant, Moe — of course — thinks he’s Kevin Durant, but we’re just having fun with it. That’s just it.
“I guess I was Curry. I figure he doesn’t shoot great every night, so I guess I can use that as my excuse.”
Head coach John Beilein said this team continues to become “stronger and stronger” as the season plays out. There is a balance between putting in the preparation while also enjoying the moment. How many head coaches retaliate against their team’s celebratory water bottle dousing with a clandestine Super Soaker attack?
“It’s all about the process that you go through with these young men. It starts in the beginning,” Beilein said. “They’re good kids. They’re not finger-pointers, and they realize there is another level of things they can do and do efficiently. Pretty soon it works.”
It’s at about that moment in Beilein’s news conference that Walton and a couple other players walk by on the outside of glass-enclosed media center where the head coach is speaking. They make sure he sees them, interrupting an answer.
“Really funny,” Beilein reacts with a laugh. “What’s that called? Photo bombing? Or a press conference bombing?”
Beilein didn’t want to pay much credence to Pitino’s comparison prior to their matchup, but he admitted Tuesday that maybe, just maybe, this team can channel its inner Warriors in certain games.
“Remember how hot Illinois was when we were playing them?” Beilein quizzed the media about Michigan’s first Big Ten Tournament opponent. “And here we show up in practice uniforms and we play like, we might have played a couple of games like we were the Golden State Warriors. I think they believed right then that if we just stick with it, and we’d have to have some breaks go our way — they did — we could be playing for a while.”