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February 12, 2013

U-M looking to get freshmen going offensively

Freshmen - no matter how talented - are just that: first-year players who are still adjusting to the rigors of playing at the highest level night in and night out while maintaining schoolwork.

They're going to struggle sometimes. Freshmen Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III are going through such a streak right now. As teams see more and more film on them, they've been able to adjust to their games - and the duo is trying to fight through it right now.

Stauskas set a blistering pace for himself in the early goings, scoring in double figures in 15 of the Wolverines' first 16 games, including a career-high 22 in the first true road game of the year, a win at Bradley.

But his numbers have decreased slightly. In Michigan's last three contests, Stauskas is 9-of-25 from the field (36.0 percent), down from his season-long averaged of 48.0 percent.

During that stretch, he has also shot 5-of-15 from three-point range. While a 33.3 shooting percentage from deep is nothing to scoff at, it's a far cry from his season averaged of 47.6 percent from behind the line.

Robinson, on the other hand, emerged as a steady offensive presence throughout much of the first half of the season, shooting 50.0 percent or better from the field in 16 of Michigan's first 21 games.

In the last three, however, Robinson has been just 6-of-20 from the field (30.0 percent). He hasn't shot better than 37.5 percent in a game during that stretch (3-of-8 from the field vs. Ohio State).

"It's important to get them going," sophomore point guard Trey Burke said. "When our three and four men are contributing at the high level we know they can contribute at, we're a totally different team. Tim [Hardaway] and I just try to talk to them and continue to give them confidence. I don't think fatigue plays a part in it. I'm sure they're not used to this type of season and schedule, but we do our best to try and give them confidence. We see them play every day, and we know what they can do. We're just going to keep giving them confidence and trusting them."

The offensive onus has fallen to Burke and Hardaway, as the two freshmen struggle to reestablish their offensive footing.

In the last three games, Burke has attempted 57 shots (hitting 23 of them) and scored 60 points. Hardaway has scored 59 points and attempted 47 shots (hitting 23 of them).

"Even if they are tired, we tell them, 'No. We have more games to go, and we have some big ones coming up,'" Burke said. "At the beginning of the year, we were talking about winning a Big Ten Championship. If we're trying to do that, these next couple games are really important. We need their offensive abilities. I'm sure they're capable of that. They're not on a drought or anything like that.

"They had a couple games at the beginning of the year where people were seeing them play at their highest level. When they don't have as good of a game, people a start saying, 'What's going on?' We're staying patient with them and giving them confidence."

Burke believes the best way to get the freshmen involved in the offense is using solid defense and rebounding to create opportunities to push the tempoi.

"It starts in transition," he said. "We definitely have plays for them in the half-court offense, but I think their game opens up when we get out in transition and get them easy buckets, get Nik some open looks from the three-point line. They're freshmen, but they're continuing to get better and grow each and every game. I'm sure they'll be ready to play.

"Michigan State does a good job of hard-hedging the ball screens off the pick and roll. We'll watch film on that today, make adjustments and find ways to beat them other than just pick-and-roll action. Our biggest thing is just getting out in transition. We're at our best when we get defensive rebounds and get out in transition. I think it opens up the floor."


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