Michigan’s Trey Burke drives on Virginia Commonwealth's Darius Theus in the first half. Burke scored 18 points for the Wolverines.
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Michigan’s prowess on the boards was all part of the plan. A hastily designed plan, given that the Wolverines realistically had a day to prepare for Virginia Commonwealth and its distinguishing style of defense, which confounded opponents for the better part of the season.
Except for Michigan.
In a game in which many thought the critical statistic would be turnovers, Michigan instead manipulated and capitalized in another category — rebounding.
In a 78-53 win Saturday over the fifth-seeded Rams in a third-round NCAA tournament game at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the fourth-seeded Wolverines controlled the boards, grabbing 41 rebounds — including 29 on defense — to VCU’s 24.
“Rebounding was definitely the game plan,” Michigan point guard Trey Burke said. “Trying to hold them to one-and-done shots, trying to get extra possessions on offense, and I think we did a really good job.
“And it all started with Mitch.”
As in forward Mitch McGary, who led the Wolverines with 21 points and 14 rebounds and provided a sizable presence under the basket.
“Rebounding was very critical,” said VCU forward Juvonte Reddic, who led the Rams with 16 points but had only three rebounds. “They got a lot of second-chance points off of rebounds. The entire night, they just controlled the boards. There was no point in the game where we really controlled the boards.
“So it played a really critical point. If you get destroyed on the rebounds, on the boards, you're not going to win the game.”
BOOM! As Michigan made a decisive first-half run, McGary made a play that made a noticeable impact.
McGary set a pick at the top of the key that allowed Burke to drive to the hoop — but put VCU guard Briante Weber on the floor.
“I heard the crowd say, ‘ohhhh!’ ” Burke said. “I didn’t know what happened, really. But I see my man on the floor, and I had the seven-foot jump shot, so I just shot it and knocked it down.”
As Burke scooted around him, McGary braced for impact, slightly lowering himself to meet Weber — who, at 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, bounced off the 6-foot-10, 250-pound McGary, much in the manner of a tiny European car hitting a brick wall. Was it a result of basic physics?
“It was a legal screen,” McGary said. “I didn’t mean intentionally for him to fall down, but it happened like that.”
TORN UP: In the second half, Glenn Robinson III had to make a quick change after his No. 1 jersey was ripped during the course of play, which forced Robinson to switch to a No. 12 jersey.
“I actually didn’t notice it,” Robinson said. “I guess when I passed the ball to Trey and he knocked down a 3, I was running back down the court and he actually told me my jersey was ripped, and then he told the ref. I’m just like, wow.”
After the win, several courtside fans asked Robinson for the tattered jersey. He could not oblige.
PACKED HOUSE: Saturday’s NCAA tournament third-round session at the Palace drew 21,723 spectators — termed a sellout.
The Palace, the home of the Detroit Pistons, holds 22,076 for NBA games.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: email@example.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.