Michigan freshman guard Eso Akunne receives extended minutes in Utah loss
SALT LAKE CITY - The altitude in Salt Lake City was the initial reason freshman guard Eso AkunneÂ expected a few extra minutes. Then Zack Novak came down with the flu and Akunne, aÂ freshman from Ann Arbor, saw his minutes pick up further.
While Michigan will find few bright spots out of its 68-52 loss to Utah,Â in which all of the Wolverines' problems surfaced again, Akunne stood out.
He played a career-high 17 minutes, scored a career-high three points, made his first college free throw and even picked up a career-high in turnovers with one.
“I thought I did OK, but could have done a lot better on defense and where I’m supposed to be and stuff like that,” said Akunne, a graduate of Gabriel Richard High School. “As time goes on I think I’m going to learn better and everyone is going to learn better.”
Michigan coach John Beilein had planned on playing Akunne early to spell junior guard Manny Harris, who logged an average of 35.9 minutes entering Wednesday's game.
And Akunne, despite everyone on his team other than Harris struggling around him, played well enough to please Beilein.
“He’s a freshman and he's getting better,” Beilein said. “He just really did a good job. He gives us some energy at times that we need.”
Zack Novak out
While Michigan struggled on the court, Zack Novak was left behind at the hotel due to the onset of his illness.
Beilein said the sophomore guard started feeling ill during practice Tuesday night in the Huntsman Center and by the end of the night couldn’t keep any food down.
The result was starting a lineup that included senior forwards Zack Gibson and DeShawn Sims, who couldn't stop Utah’s taller, stronger and perhaps more skilled big men.
“We missed him a lot, absolutely missed him a lot,” Beilein said of Novak. “He’s one guy we could always count on to block his man out, he’s always going to hustle, he’s always going to do some pretty good things.
“This certainly didn’t work out so well today playing big.”
The good news for Novak: Beilein said he’s keeping food down now and he’ll be able to travel back with Michigan to Ann Arbor tomorrow.
“He couldn’t have helped us,” Beilein said. “And it would have hurt him more.”
Beilein disappointed in guard play
Although this is unsurprising considering the way all of Michigan’s guard have played except forÂ Harris, Beilein finally became frustrated with his guards.
Sophomore Laval Lucas-Perry had more turnovers (2) than assists (1) and missed both of his shots. Stu Douglass continued his shooting funk, going 1-for-6 and not grabbing a rebound. Freshman Matt Vogrich missed both of his 3-point shots.
And none of them played particularly well defensively other than freshman Darius Morris, who had 2 steals, 4 assists and 5 rebounds to go with his 7 points.
“All our guards really have a lot to do,” Beilein said. “And we’ll just keep working with them.”
This and that
As the game wound down, Utah’s student section began chanting “Just like football Just like football.” A year ago, the Utes went to Ann Arbor and beat Michigan in Rich Rodriguez’s first game, 25-23. Michigan’s 55 percent free-throw shooting was the team’s worst performance of the season. In the first half, Michigan was outrebounded by Utah, 22-9, with the Utes grabbing 10 offensive rebounds.