INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- 82-76. Michigan’s remarkable run through the 2013 NCAA tournament field ultimately fell six points shy of a national championship in Atlanta.
Now a year later and in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis, in the midst of what the Wolverines hope will be another special run, the championship loss to Louisville, who could be Michigan’s opponent should both win Friday night, still lingers.
For Nik Stauskas, the loss is personal.
Carving up the Florida Gators from the outside with six three-pointers in the Elite Eight in Dallas last year, Stauskas went into the Final Four hot, only to come up cold in those final two games against Syracuse and Louisville.
Stauskas laid a goose egg in the scoring column in Michigan’s win over Syracuse, connecting on none of four three-point attempts in 18 minutes. Following that up on championship Monday, Stauskas scored just three points.
While several missed shots, foul trouble, key hustle plays and more contributed to Michigan’s loss to the Cardinals, Stauskas points at himself first, knowing and feeling as though he could’ve played much, much better.
“No doubt,” Stauskas said Thursday. “You know, not only losing the Championship game, but just the fact that I didn't play well personally those two games, it motivated me going into the summer, just gave me a little bit extra motivation to work harder on the court and in the weight room.
“So all throughout that summer I kind of had a bad taste in my mouth just from those last two games and it kept me going.”
Stauskas’ growth this off-season is well documented, adding muscle and expanding his repertoire to become the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year on his way to averaging 17.4 points per game.
But Stauskas and his coach feel like his playmaking ability, dribble drive game, and swagger has always been there, this season he’s just had enough opportunities to put it all on display.
“I get that question a lot,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “I think people may be surprised, because we saw so many things last year that as a freshman and playing alongside Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke, he didn't have the same opportunities he had this year.
“And we would have been crazy to say, all right, Nik's our guy. Our guys were Tim Hardaway and Trey Burke last year.
“Now when we came in this year, Nik knew at the end of the year when both of them went pro, Nik, we have 80 more minutes, we have 25 more shots a game at least, who's going to get those? And we got to have guys who are going to be leaders and defenders; who's going to do that? You obviously have a lot of talent. Now, he spent his summer getting ready for this opportunity, and when given that opportunity he's made the most of it.”
Michigan and Nik Stauskas, back in a pressure packed situation as they look to make their second straight Elite Eight appearance with a win over Tennessee Friday, aren’t walking into Lucas Oil Stadium wide eyed and unaware.
Playing in some of the greatest and largest venues already in their short careers, the Wolverines feel like veterans in these situations.
“This is not something that they're dreading, all the media attention,” Beilein said. “They've been through it. They survived it. And now they just go play basketball. I think that helps a lot.
“Getting used to the ten-minute walk from your locker room to the floor can be something kids aren't used to. So they're used to that. That's about the only thing I think that's really helpful right now.”
From Stauskas’ point of view, he goes back to one of his go to quotes from his freshman season, ‘it’s just ball coach.’
“It helps a little bit just being throughout this whole experience and having the pressure of the Sweet Sixteen on your shoulders, but in the end it is still basketball and we have to go out and play our game,” Stauskas said.