ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Juwan Howard watched his team turn another highly anticipated matchup into a blowout.
First, Michigan pushed its lead to 17 at halftime. Then it was 30. Then, unbelievably, the Wolverines led No. 9 Wisconsin by 40 points near the midway point of the second half.
“It says a lot about their maturity — understanding that every possession counts and matters,” said Howard, in his second season as Michigan’s coach. “Wisconsin’s a team that’s capable of going on runs, and basketball is based on runs.”
On this night, it was No. 7 Michigan that made the big run — and that’s an understatement. The Wolverines outscored the Badgers 43-6 over a stretch that spanned parts of both halves, and Michigan remained unbeaten with a 77-54 win Tuesday.
Mike Smith had 16 points and six assists for the Wolverines. Franz Wagner added 15 points and 10 rebounds. It was another masterpiece for Michigan (11-0, 6-0 Big Ten), which became first team in college basketball history to beat three ranked opponents in a row by at least 19 points.
“They’re coached very well. They have a lot of players and they have playmakers on both ends of the floor,” said D’Mitrik Trice, who led Wisconsin with 20 points. “A lot of guys that can get up and run the floor. A lot of shooters. And, they space the floor really well. They’re very disciplined in what they need to get accomplished. It just shows.”
Michigan set the tone for this one with its rim protection. The Badgers (10-3, 4-2) struggled to finish plays around the basket early on, and the Wolverines had six blocked shots in the first half alone.
Michigan led 26-23 before scoring the last 14 points of the half. A steal and dunk by Wagner made it 33-23. Smith followed that with a steal and a layup. Wagner then drove the baseline and dunked for a 14-point advantage.
The start of the second half wasn’t any better for Wisconsin. A 3-pointer by Eli Brooks made it 47-26, and a 3 by Smith made it 54-26. Finally, a layup by Chaundee Brown gave Michigan an almost incomprehensible 69-29 lead.
“You definitely don’t expect that coming into the game,” Wagner said. “Knowing how we worked, what we did in the summer, I’m just happy that it pays off.”
The last time Michigan started the season with a run like this was when the Wolverines were 17-0 during the 2018-19 season. Wisconsin actually ended that unbeaten streak, but the Badgers didn’t come close to a repeat performance.
Wisconsin: The Badgers have been a bit of a thorn in Michigan’s side over the years, and they entered this game having won seven of their last 10 at Crisler Center. But this time, their 3-point shooting (9 of 28) was not nearly enough to make up for all their problems inside the arc.
Michigan: After taking down three straight ranked teams by an average of 22.3 points, the only real concern for the Wolverines at this stage is they might be playing their best basketball in January. If they look anything like this in March, they should be considered a national title contender.
What’s remarkable about this stretch for Michigan is the final scores don’t tell the whole story of the Wolverines’ dominance. Michigan led by 29 against Northwestern before winning by 19. The Wolverines led by 37 against Minnesota before winning by 25. And then Michigan’s biggest lead Tuesday was 40.
“They’ve done that to a lot of teams,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said. “They get a little spark and it turns into an avalanche.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers have a chance to rebound quickly when they play at Rutgers on Friday night.