LOS ANGELES — In one flash across the lane, Moe Wagner managed to combine West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic and Kobe, a Showtime move kissing the glass in a Showtime town. Behind the back with the right hand, a bump and half-hook with the left, early in an NCAA Tournament tilt.
That takes some ernsthafte steine, my friend. Stones.
Moe Wagner showin' off the handles earlyyyy 👀pic.twitter.com/C8GmtIRcKu
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) March 22, 2018
When’s the last time you pulled that trick off in a game with a straight face?
“Oh, it’s been a while,” the unabashed Michigan forward said, flashing that wide, unabashed Moe Wagner grin. “I almost forgot about that, yeah. They always sit on that, ya know?”
No kidding. Seriously. Who does that? What 6-foot-11 guy does that in a win-or-go-home contest on a neutral court?
“I don’t think about what I’m doing, unfortunately. I just do it,” Wagner shrugged, still grinning, a half hour after his Wolverines stomped Texas A&M to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament — where they’ll take on Florida State, the No. 9 seed in the West, at 8:49 p.m. Saturday at Staples Center.
“That’s the biggest pet peeve of me. Because I just saw that play, instinctively, and that’s what they gave me, and it worked out.”
Thursday is what it looks like when everything works out. Wagner dribbles behind his back and makes it look like art. The normally reserved Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (24 points) starts driving and kicking, driving and scoring, driving and sticking his tongue out like Gene Simmons at a photo shoot. Duncan Robinson gets the ultimate shooter’s roll, a 3-pointer that takes two funny bounces off the rim and backboard and drops in anyway.
“I was just very thankful for that,” the senior swing man laughed. “It felt good. I just kind of got a roll, which I’m always appreciative of.”
That roll feels contagious, doesn’t it? Everything is working now. And when everything’s working, this is what a Final Four team looks like.
Consider: The Aggies’ 47.8 percent field-goal rate from the floor was the highest of any Michigan opponent this month, and that was helped significantly by some cheapie layups off the press early in the second half once the game was well out of reach. No Wolverines foe has cracked the 48-percent mark since Iowa back on Feb. 14.
When the offense rolls like this — 14 3-point makes, 61.9 percent from the floor, treys from Ibi Watson and C.J. Baird — you wonder if there’s anyone left in the field that can stand in their way.
Sister Jean notwithstanding, of course.
‘When you make shots, it’s so much more fun.’
— Michigan forward Moe Wagner on the Wolverines’ rout of Texas A&M
“When we got back on Monday [to campus] and watched the film [from the first and second rounds], we knew we were so much better than what we played,” said Robinson, whose 10 points and pair of treys off the bench helped pound the final nails into the Aggies’ coffin midway through the first half.
“And that’s encouraging. When you go 2-0 and beat two really good teams in a weekend [Montana and Houston] and don’t play your best …”
“[Thursday] might have been close to our best, quite honestly. So hopefully, we’ve still got a little bit left in the tank. But we’ll see how it goes.”
The Wolverines (31-7) knew — hey, we all did — that they were better shooters than they showed in Wichita, where brick after brick fell inside Intrust Arena, a rut that began with a 10-0 hole in the first round against No. 14-seed Montana. Michigan more or less crawled and scratched from its collective knees to get out of the first weekend of Bracketville, connecting on only 39.6 percent of shots from the floor and 28.2 percent from beyond the arc.
“I mean, it’s all in your mind, I think,” center Jon Teske explained. “Obviously, you get your first couple of shots to go in, you think anything’s going in, really.”
On Thursday, damn near anything was. And if you could bottle that bad boy and bring it to the party against the Seminoles (23-11) on Saturday, you would.
“Control the controllables,” Robinson said. “Energy. Effort. It’s coach-speak and it’s corny, but it’s the ultimate truth, quite honestly. You can’t depend on shots going in or whatever.”
But when they do, mercy. Eight different Wolverines made a trey Thursday night, a school record for a single NCAA Tournament game. It was the most points scored by a Wolverines team in the Big Dance since 1992, back when the shorts were long and the swag was longer.
“We enjoy winning, we enjoy having fun like that,” Wagner said. “When you make shots, it’s so much more fun.”
Hell, yeah, boss. For everybody.