With Nik Stauskas starting, No. 3 Michigan puts its best 5 forward in 74-66 win over Bradley
PEORIA, Ill. -- For the first three weeks of the season, Nik Stauskas said all the right things, and kept right on playing.
Despite clearly being one of No. 3 Michigan's best five players, the sharp-shooting Canadian freshman continued to come off the bench -- something he'd never done before.
Every time he was asked about it, he politely admitted it was a different feeling, but always deferred judgement to John Beilein -- saying that he was behind whatever his coach wanted to do, no matter what.
On Saturday, his coach finally gave in. Stauskas started.
And the Wolverines benefitted in a big way.
"I've been out there in a lot of situations, I played the game the same way I always do," said Stauskas, who dropped in a game-high 22 points as Michigan moved to 7-0 with a 74-66 win at Bradley. "It was a little exciting (to start), but once the game started, you've just got to do what you've got to do."
At this point, doing what you've got to do for Stauskas basically means knocking down shot after shot after shot while continuing to develop into a matchup nightmare.
It was the second-straight scoring outburst for the 6-foot-6 wing, who is now averaging 14.3 points per game this season, third-best on the team.
Stauskas is only 16 total points behind co-leading scorers Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., and continues to scorch the nets from 3-point range at a torrid pace.
He's 18 of 29 from downtown this season, and on Saturday, every time he caught the ball in rhythm, everything else was elementary.
"I got on him when he does miss one, but that's not common," Burke said afterward. "(We were) definitely (excited to see him start), that was a decision the coaching staff had to make.
"I think we'd have been good either way, but when they made the lineup, I think it gives us more of a threat with him starting."
When Bradley cut Michigan's lead to two midway through the first half, it was Stauskas with a dead-eye triple to space things back out.
And when Michigan finally began to stretch its legs early in the second half, it was Stauskas who converted off the dribble on the fast break before nailing yet another 3-point bomb to put Michigan up double digits for the first time all afternoon just three minutes into the second half.
In the end, Bradley didn't have a single player on its roster capable of guarding Stauskas -- and it showed.
"(Burke) has been finding me for open looks," Stauskas said. "I've told him, every time I'm open I'm going to knock it down.
"My man's been finding me, and I owe it all to him and the rest of my teammates."
Stauskas' presence on the court to begin games obviously gives Michigan its best offensive lineup early and often, but it's his improved defense that eventually forced Beilein to cave in and start him over senior Matt Vogrich.
Beilein said Vogrich's experience defensively put him ahead of Stauskas in certain areas early in the season, but the freshman's willingness to spend as much time working at stopping people as he does burning people finally pushed him into the starting five.
"He's doing too many other good things," Beilein said. "If he hadn't played such good defense the other night (against North Carolina State), this wouldn't have happened. But he's showing he can guard some people.
"And, he can obviously still shoot."
Michigan went 34 games last season without finding a true third scorer offensively.
This season's just seven games old, and the Wolverines already have four averaging double digits (Burke, Hardaway, Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III).
And that makes them very, very dangerous.
"We always want to have another (scorer) to play through," Beilein said. "And you saw some situations (Saturday) where we could play through (Stauskas) a little bit."