Commentary

Vogrich heats up at right time

Shooter locates shooting touch down stretch for Wolverines

Updated: March 8, 2012, 1:47 PM ET
By Chantel Jennings | WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Call it an accidental anointing at the hands of Michigan assistant coach Bacari Alexander and a jar of Tabasco hot sauce.

The recipient? Michigan junior guard Matt Vogrich.

It was another pregame meal with his teammates, and Vogrich sat at the table when Alexander shook the hot sauce bottle without realizing the top had already been taken off. A bit splashed on Vogrich, and when Alexander went to wipe it off, he quickly pulled back.

[+] EnlargeMatt Vogrich
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMatt Vogrich came off the bench to hit nine 3-pointers in Michigan's final nine games.
"No, keep it on," Alexander joked. "You're going to be hot now."

It seemed pretty farfetched. Vogrich was shooting well in practice but couldn't seem to connect in games. While he was getting only one or two shots a game, the misses had added up, and he was shooting 21 percent from 3-point range.

But that night the junior got hot. He knocked down 3 of 4 triples against Nebraska. He followed that up with a 2-for-2 night against Illinois. And when Michigan got to Northwestern, he provided three crucial 3s in an overtime victory against the Wildcats.

It was what Michigan coach John Beilein had been waiting for. After moving senior guard Stu Douglass into the Wolverines' starting lineup, Michigan had lacked a true sixth man, someone it could turn to for an automatic scoring burst off the bench.

But now it seemed that the Vogrich who had been seen in practice was the Vogrich showing up in games. Through the final seven games of the conference schedule, Vogrich shot 50 percent from 3-point range.

"Everyone knows since the Nebraska game that he's back to his shooting touch," Beilein said. "He can change a lead in minutes to go from up four to up 10, or down four to up two. It's really helpful knowing he can come off the bench especially when he's doing it with the swagger he has right now."

It was a slump that Beilein knew Vogrich would come out of. Unfortunately, the only remedy for poor shooting -- when there is nothing mechanically wrong with a player's shot -- is to continue shooting.

But Vogrich had never gone through something like this. In high school and AAU, he was getting seven to eight attempts a game from behind the arc, meaning he could shoot his way out of a slump in a matter of 30 minutes. But at Michigan, when he was playing only a handful of minutes and shooting once or twice a game, he began counting the misses.

Sometimes in the locker room he would try to remember the last time he had made a shot in a game, only increasing the pressure. It was the first time in his career that he began paying attention to the percentages, only because of how they continued to fall.

"When you're in the middle of a dry spell, then you're not shooting like you always do -- with confidence," Vogrich said. "You're shooting and hoping you don't miss, and you're aiming the ball instead of just going up there and doing what you're used to doing every other time."

Nate Pomeday, Vogrich's former AAU coach who's now an assistant at Oregon State, watched from the West Coast as Vogrich struggled.

He remembered the games when Vogrich would go scoreless through most of a game, but as the clock wound down his teammates still would want to give him the ball to take the final shot. Like Beilein, he knew it would just take time for Vogrich and that once he hit one, he'd hit many.

"I've been around some really good shooters, but Matt's the best," Pomeday said. "With Matt it never mattered how many shots he had missed. All he knew is that he had the ability to make the shot that mattered. It didn't matter if he was 0-for-7, because we knew he could be 1-for-8 and your team would win because of it."

And while it took a little longer for Vogrich to find that one shot this season, he eventually did.

Now, the junior is a key to the Wolverines' success. Whether he provides a couple of 3s a game or uses his presence on the floor to stretch opponents defenses, Vogrich has been instrumental down the stretch.

Tabasco sauce or not, he has been heating up. He couldn't have picked a better time, as the Wolverines head into the Big Ten tournament.

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @chanteljennings.