In the second round of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament, Michigan hung on to stave off Penn State and its thwarted bid. As usual, Leigha Brown – who returned from a two-game break – led the way for Wolverines with 12 points and nine assists in the 63-61 victory.
Brown wasn’t the only Wolverine to make a triumphant return. Sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Laila Phelia returned to action for the first time since Jan. 29.
The first quarter was not marked by the dominance of the Wolverines, as many expected. The Nittany Lions finished the 18-game Big Ten season with a disappointing 4-14 record, but paid no attention to the past in Thursday afternoon’s game.
A strong all-around effort from Penn State kept the Michigan tie going after a quarter of play.
The higher-seeded Wolverines also failed to pull away in the second quarter. In fact, with just seconds to go, Michigan was leading by one. In the final possession of the first half, Leigha Brown drove into the lane and laid down a nice no-look pass to Elise Stuck, who knocked down a jumper to give UM a one-point advantage heading into the second half. time.
Penn State’s grittiness was also evident in the second half, as the Nittany Lions showed no signs of fatigue after beating Minnesota on Wednesday. Despite Brown and Phelia returning, Michigan’s offense didn’t click.
Similar to the end of the second quarter, Michigan made another last-second shot late in the third quarter to take the lead. Phelia drilled through a mid-range jumper to give Wolverines a 52-50 lead going into the final 10 minutes.
The fourth quarter is where Michigan finally started to pull back. The Wolverines have been the most consistent team throughout the regular season, and it showed early in the fourth quarter.
However, after Michigan opened up a nine-point lead, Penn State pushed. The Nittany Lions battled all the way back, trailing by just two points with 11 seconds left. Luckily for UM, Penn State couldn’t put together a quality final possession on offense, and the Wolverines narrowly survived.
Phelia scored a team-high 13 points on 5-11 shooting in her return. The second is one of Michigan’s key players, and her return will help Michigan tremendously in the later stages of the season.
Kim Barnes Arico and the Wolverines advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, where they will face No. 4 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have beaten Michigan in each of the first two regular season meetings. Ohio State has a fiery all-court press, which UM struggles with, as Thursday afternoon’s win showed.
The new edition of the rivalry will begin around 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The game will air on Big Ten Network.
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