Hunter Dickinson had an inauspicious start to Michigan basketball’s game at Wisconsin on Sunday afternoon.
In the Wolverines’ first game in 23 days after a two-week shutdown, the freshman center was quickly winded.
“The first four minutes was kinda rough,” Dickinson said. “First four minutes of every college basketball game is usually the hardest on your lungs but this one, I definitely felt it a little bit more than the others, understandably from the two-week pause, but Coach (Juwan) Howard expected this from us. I just called for a quick sub and I knew he’d get me back in there quick.”
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Even if Dickinson’s conditioning lagged a bit, he still found a way to contribute to the Wolverines’ 67-59 win. He played 27 minutes and had 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.
Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson tries to get past Wisconsin’s Tyler Wahl (5) and Micah Potter (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021, in Madison, Wis.
It wasn’t Dickinson’s most efficient game (3 of 9 from the field). But it was another example of how important he has become for both Michigan’s offense and defense.
It also helped him earn Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the sixth time this season, one short of the program record held by Trey Burke.
Dickinson, who played 15 minutes in the second half, was a big reason why Wisconsin scored just 20 points on 7 of 28 shooting in the final 20 minutes, averaging 0.61 points per possession.
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In some scenarios, Dickinson was forced to guard Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice after Michigan began to switch screens — and Dickinson didn’t look out of place against the Badgers’ leading scorer, blocking Trice twice and helping limit him to a 4 of 11 shooting performance.
“Hunter did an amazing job, which is very challenging, difficult to do against a smaller, elite guard like Trice in front of him,” Howard said. “He got some key blocks while he was guarding Trice, shots that Trice tried to shoot over the top of our ball-screen defense.
“It shows the level of toughness, but more importantly, he’s a smart player. It’s not easy to do. You try to guard Trice. As quick he is and as talented as he is, being a 7-foot-2 guy, I thought that was big for us. Hunter, we know he’s only a freshman, he’s growing and getting better and better game by game.”
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Dickinson’s rim protection has only improved as the season has continued; his 6.5% block rate ranks in the top 100 nationally, according to KenPom.com; an impressive feat for a freshman who was not regarded as a top defender entering college. While Sunday’s five-block performance represented a new career-high for Dickinson, he has consistently altered shots during Big Ten play, with one game with four blocks and three games with three blocks.
Dickinson showed his athleticism on two blocks in particular on Sunday. In the first half, he blocked a mid-range jumper from Nate Reuvers by contesting from the side. Then, during the waning moments of the game, Dickinson stepped out to the perimeter to block a 3 from Micah Potter after Wisconsin ran the pick-and-pop.
“I just think on defense, Coach knew that they were gonna put us in a lot of ball-screen actions,” Dickinson said. “They wanted to test us with their pick-and-pop ‘5’ men, who make it difficult in ball screens. I just wanted to take the challenge out there, me and Austin (Davis) focused really hard in practice on our stab stances and guarding ball screens, I think we did really well today.
“That’s usually the hard part, offense is the easy part. My teammates do a good job of finding me out there for baskets.”
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Dickinson struggled with his touch and the Badgers’ post defense, but still made several plays on offense. With the Wolverines trailing by one with just under three minutes remaining, Dickinson grabbed an offensive rebound (one of five in the game) and passed out of a double team to Isaiah Livers, who hit a go-ahead 3.
One minute later, with Michigan scrambling in another late-shot clock scenario, Dickinson rebounded an errant shot and put it back in to break a tie and regain the lead.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Hunter go out of his area and rebound like the way he did tonight,” Livers said. “I’m getting goosebumps talking about it right now. … This dude is going from block to block rebounding. He’s grabbing rebounds from under the rim while being pushed out with one hand. That is very special.
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“To have the IQ to not put his head down and try to put the ball back in — he looks for shooters on the perimeter and he found me and I was wide open. The result was a 3-pointer. That’s just really special to me.”
Contact Orion Sang at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan basketball’s Hunter Dickinson shows off defense vs. Wisconsin
Published: 2021-02-15 21:22:29
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