| The Detroit News
Chilly temperatures and winter storms have blasted the state of Michigan in recent weeks.
Yet, the frigid conditions haven’t done much to cool off Wolverines senior forward Isaiah Livers.
“He’s definitely reaching another level,” grad transfer guard Mike Smith said Wednesday. “He’s hot right now.”
Heading into Thursday night’s home contest against Rutgers, Livers is riding the best offensive stretch of his career. He has posted three straight 20-point performances — the first time he’s done that in his 111 games — to take over the team’s scoring lead and help No. 3 Michigan (14-1, 9-1 Big Ten) maintain its place atop the conference standings.
The torrid run began last month with a 20-point outing in a 24-point win over Maryland and a 22-point outburst in a 17-point victory at Purdue. That was followed by a 23-day break between games. But not even a three-week layoff could throw Livers off as he quickly found his shooting stroke and poured in 20 points in the eight-point come-from-behind win at Wisconsin.
“When you put in that work, continue to grind through the tough patches throughout the season and stay with the process and trust the process, good things happen,” coach Juwan Howard said. “That’s what has been happening for him. He’s in a great place.”
In each of the past three games, Livers has been efficient, shooting at least 50% from the field and needing eight, 14 and 16 field-goal attempts, respectively, to reach his scoring marks. He’s also been assertive looking for his shots and getting into a rhythm early in games, with more than half his points coming in the first halves.
Against Maryland, he hit back-to-back 3-pointers less than six minutes into the contest. Against Purdue, he knocked down a jumper and a pair of free throws in the opening four minutes. Then against Wisconsin, Livers was the primary source of offense and scored 13 of Michigan’s 27 first-half points.
“He’s doing it on his own and it’s been working,” Smith said. “I think Coach believes that everybody should be aggressive and if he’s hot, he’s hot. It’s hard to stop him when he’s hot.”
Last month, Livers noted he grew up hunting shots and that was the main reason he was recruited by former coach John Beilein. He added he’s reached a point where he’s not overthinking anything and he has the level of confidence that when he shoots, he feels he won’t miss.
“I was just doing what the system tells me to do,” Livers said after the Wisconsin game. “If Coach Howard puts me in a spot to score, I go score the ball. If not, then I try to create for someone else, create a shot or drive. Our offense is not favorited toward one guy. We all can do a bunch of extraordinary things.”
Still, that hasn’t stopped senior guard Chaundee Brown from instructing Livers to keep taking advantage of his opportunities and to let it fly at every turn.
“Yesterday we were on the same teams in practice and I’m telling him to stay aggressive because we know that he’s a high-level scorer,” Brown said. “He puts in the work every day before and after practice — shooting, ball-handling. We know what he’s capable of and I tell him to stay aggressive because when he’s aggressive, we’re really good.”
Over the past three games, Livers has been getting it done all over the floor, from pull-up 3-pointers in transition and fast-break layups to contested jumpers late in the shot clock. He’s particularly been dialed in from beyond the arc, connecting on 64.7% (11-for-17) of his long-range shots and making at least three 3-pointers each contest.
When it comes to helping set up Livers for his variety of shots, Smith has one goal: put the ball in the pocket, give him the laces and watch him do the rest.
“Before he catches the ball, you can tell he’s down low and ready to shoot,” Brown said. “His footwork is always on key. Even when he’s running off a screen, he’ll plant his feet and have his feet toward the basket every time. That’s what makes him a great shooter.
“I feel like what’s overlooked is his post-up game and the fadeaway he shoots all the time or even when he goes up strong and attacks the basket. … It’s difficult guarding him.”
The goal for every college basketball team is to have their top players performing at their best when March nears. And as Michigan barrels toward the finish line in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten title, Livers appears to be kicking into another gear.
“You’ve got to ride with the hot hand until it’s not hot anymore,” Smith said. “Hopefully we can keep him scoring 20 points a game going into the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness.”
Rutgers at No. 3 Michigan
► Tip-off: 9 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
►Records: Rutgers 12-7, 8-7 Big Ten; Michigan 14-1, 9-1
►Outlook: Michigan is 13-0 in the all-time series against Rutgers with eight victories coming by double figures. …Rutgers has won five of its past six games but is 1-5 against ranked opponents this season. …The Scarlet Knights are led by junior wing Ron Harper Jr., who is eighth in the Big Ten in scoring at 16.2 points per game, and rank last in the conference in free-throw shooting (61.6%).
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