LOS ANGELES — This ain’t no disco.
This ain’t Moe Wagner’s first trip to L.A., either.
“I liked Venice Beach a lot, because Berlin is a very hip scene, you know?” Michigan’s star big man told Land of 10 before the Wolverines (30-7) started practice for a showdown Thursday night with Texas A&M (22-12) in the West Regional semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
“So Venice Beach is pretty cool. I used to love that with the skateboards.”
While the image of a 6-foot-11 German zipping down Windward Avenue with a giant skate helmet sort of beggars belief, the dude definitely knows the territory.
“Yeah, he’ll be all right,” Duncan Robinson laughed. “[Wagner] has got a lot of drama in him, so he’ll probably fit right in.”
The Berlin native visited Southern California on a family vacation when he was 14, and the Big Dance brought a wave of memories crashing back.
“Santa Monica is obviously a good place,” Wagner continued. “And up in the mountains — that’s too much money for me, so I’m going to go down low.
“I like the ocean, too. So watching guys play basketball down at the courts on Venice Beach, that’s something very special for me.”
Wagner was a special target of Detroit and Los Angeles media Wednesday as the Wolverines practiced at Staples Center for the first time. Besides being one of the best quotes still dancing in the West Region, the giant German is at the heart of what could be one of the most compelling on-court matchups Thursday night.
The Aggies, a 7 seed, are one of the few teams left in the Sweet 16 that can match the Wolverines size-wise. Starting forward D.J. Hogg (11.2 points per game), at 6-9, is a classic stretch-4, while front-court mates Robert Williams and Tyler Davis both check in at 6-10. Williams pulled down 13 rebounds while Davis netted 18 points and 3 blocks as Texas A&M pounded No. 2 seed North Carolina in the second round, 86-65.
“[Wagner needs to] stay on the court as much as he can,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “He’s really working at that very hard, but [try] to stay on the court a little bit more.
“But at the same time, when he was off the court, Jon Teske did an incredible job defensively for us. But better [to] have him out there for 30 [minutes] than 23 like we’ve had him the last couple games.”
Wagner goes into Thursday leading the Wolverines in scoring (14.2 per game) and rebounding (7.1) but only averaged 8.5 points and 27.5 minutes during the first and second rounds in Wichita. Some of his early fouls were offset by contributions from the improving Teske, who at 7-1 is more of a traditional Big Ten post presence. The big Ohioan averaged 4 points and 2 blocks per tilt in wins over Montana and Houston last week.
“We’re more of a traditional, low-post power team, probably more like Purdue in that league,” A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “So they’re a perimeter-post [approach], and more like Vandy in [the SEC].
“So that’s where the challenges are going to be presented, with our bigs being able to go out on the floor and guard them, and maybe their bigs being able to guard our bigs inside. I think that’s the biggest difference in how both teams will attack each other.”
As for the differences between L.A. and Ann Arbor, well …
“Actually, the people are kind of similar,” Wagner chuckled. “They’re crazy.”
He was kidding.
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