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Stauskas adds sharp-shooting swagger for Michigan

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) - Nik Stauskas took the pass in transition only to find himself caught under the basket with a defender next to him.

No problem: He dropped a nifty no-look bounce pass to a teammate for a dunk.

On Michigan's next offensive possession, the freshman from Canada made an open 3-pointer from the left wing. Later, he moved to the left corner for a 3 and followed that with a driving layup. Then it was back to that same corner for another 3. And another. And another.

The Wolverines were playing a regional final, and Stauskas was making it look like a pregame shooting drill.

``My shot felt good,'' Stauskas said. ``So I was just letting them fly.''

Michigan is heading to its first Final Four since 1993, and it was that 3-point barrage by Stauskas on Sunday that sealed a spot for the Wolverines. Stauskas made all six of his attempts from beyond the arc, scoring 22 points in a 79-59 win over Florida. The 6-foot-6 guard is shooting 45 percent from long range this season and his performance against the Gators was a reminder of how good Michigan can be when everybody is contributing.

Stauskas is part of a talented class of freshmen that also includes forward Glenn Robinson III and emerging big man Mitch McGary. The other two probably arrived with more fanfare, but it was Stauskas who turned heads immediately.

A month into the season, Stauskas was 27 of 46 from 3-point range, fitting seamlessly into Michigan's perimeter-oriented offense. He wasn't going to maintain that torrid shooting, but he needed only seven games to work his way into the starting lineup.

By the time the NCAA tournament arrived, opponents were aware of Stauskas. He shot a more normal-looking 36 percent from beyond the arc against Big Ten opponents and went 2 for 12 in Michigan's first three NCAA tournament games. And when Stauskas isn't contributing with his outside shooting, Michigan looks a lot more beatable.

He went scoreless at Ohio State in mid-January in Michigan's first loss of the season. In a loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament, Stauskas went 1 of 8 from the field and scored only four points.

But the potential for a breakout was always there.

``He really works at it, and that's rare with a freshman,'' coach John Beilein said. ``A freshman may have an off night, he may talk about, `I'm not getting the shots, I'm not getting the looks.' That's not Nik. Nik works at his game to be ready, because his teammates can pass, and they know where he is all the time.''

They didn't have to look around much against Florida. The Gators, apparently more concerned with Michigan guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. - not to mention McGary - kept leaving Stauskas open in that left corner.

As shot after shot went in, Stauskas' confidence grew along with Michigan's lead.

``Nik didn't have to do anything, he was just standing in the corner and we were finding him,'' Hardaway joked. ``That was the corner shot that he was working on all pregame, so our big men did a great job of just rolling to the basket and collapsing defense and us guards were just finding him on halfcourt and on fast breaks.''

This is Michgan's first Final Four team since the Fab Five era, and of all the current Wolverines, Stauskas may be the one who does the most to bring back the swagger of those early-1990s teams.

McGary is Michigan's most demonstrative player, but that's mostly a result of his boundless, unscripted energy. Stauskas, on the other hand, exudes confidence and isn't afraid to show it, whether he's putting imaginary goggles over his eyes with his hands (each holding up three fingers) or just smiling his way back downcourt after a big shot.

``Being a shooter, you never get down on yourself when you're missing shots,'' Stauskas said. ``Keep shooting.''

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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