In the second round of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament, Michigan held on to stave off Penn State and its upset bid. As usual, Leigha Brown – returning from a two-game hiatus – led the way for the Wolverines with 12 points and nine assists in the 63-61 win.
Brown wasn’t the only Wolverine to return triumphant. Sophomore guard and second leading scorer Laila Phelia returned to action for the first time since January 29.
The first quarter didn’t show dominance from the Wolverines, as many might have expected. The Nittany Lions finished the 18-game Big Ten season with a disappointing 4-14 record, but they paid no mind to the past in Thursday afternoon’s game.
A solid all-around effort from Penn State tied it with Michigan after fifteen minutes of play.
The higher-ranked Wolverines also failed to pull away in the second quarter. In fact, with just seconds left to play, Michigan was trailing by one. In the last possession of the first half, Leigha Brown drove onto the track and made a beautiful no-look pass to Elise Stuck, who brought down a jumper to give UM a point lead going into the second half.
Penn State’s roughness was evident in the second half as well, as the Nittany Lions showed no signs of fatigue after beating Minnesota on Wednesday. Despite bringing back both Brown and Phelia, Michigan’s offense did not click.
As at the end of the second quarter, Michigan made one 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 going into the final 10 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, Michigan finally began to pull back. 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 just two points with 11 seconds left. Fortunately for UM, Penn State couldn’t put together a quality possession on offense, and the Wolverines narrowly 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 greatly help Michigan in the late stages of the season.
Kim Barnes Arico and the Wolverines advance to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, where they face No. 4 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes defeated Michigan in each of the first two regular season games. Ohio State has a feisty full press, which UM struggles with, as evidenced by Thursday afternoon’s victory.
The latest edition in the rivalry will start at around 3 p.m. on Friday afternoon. The game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.
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