In the second round of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament, Michigan hung on to fend off Penn State and its upset bid. As usual, Leigha Brown — returning from a two-game layoff — led the way for the Wolverines with 12 points and nine assists in the 63-61 win.
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 dominated by the Wolverines, as many might have expected. The Nittany Lions finished the 18-game Big Ten season with an underwhelming 4-14 record, but they didn’t dwell on the past in Thursday afternoon’s game.
A solid all-around effort from Penn State tied it with Michigan after one quarter of play.
The higher-seeded Wolverines couldn’t pull away in the second quarter, either. In fact, with just a few seconds to play, Michigan trailed by one. On the final possession of the first half, Leigha Brown drove into the lane and dropped a beautiful pass to Elise Stuck, who knocked down a jumper to give UM a one-point advantage going into the second half.
Penn State’s ferocity was evident in the second half as well, as the Nittany Lions showed no signs of fatigue after defeating Minnesota on Wednesday. Despite bringing back both Brown and Phelia, Michigan’s offense wasn’t clicking.
Similar to the end of the second quarter, Michigan made another last-second shot at the end of the third quarter to take the lead. Phelia drilled a mid-range jumper to give the Wolverines a 52-50 lead entering the final 10 minutes.
The fourth quarter is when Michigan finally started to pull away. The Wolverines were the much more consistent team throughout the regular season, and it showed in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
However, after Michigan opened up a nine-point lead, Penn State made a push. The Nittany Lions battled all the way back, trailing by just two points with 11 seconds left. Fortunately for UM, Penn State was unable to put together a quality final possession on offense and the Wolverines barely survived.
Phelia scored a team-high 13 points on 5-11 shooting in her return. The sophomore is one of Michigan’s key players, and her return will help Michigan tremendously in the late stages of the season.
Kim Barnes Arico and the Wolverines advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, where they will face 4th seed Ohio State.
The Buckeyes defeated Michigan in each of the first two regular season matchups. Ohio State has a fierce full-court press, which UM struggles with, which was on display in Thursday afternoon’s win.
The latest edition in the rivalry starts at approximately 3pm on Friday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
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