In the second round of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament, Michigan hung on to stave off Penn State and its upset bid. As usual, Leigha Brown — who returned 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 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 did not feature dominance from the Wolverines, like many may have been expecting. The Nittany Lions finished the 18-game Big Ten season with an underwhelming 4-14 record, but they didn’t pay any attention to the past in Thursday afternoon’s game.
A solid all-around effort from Penn State kept it knotted up with Michigan after one quarter of play.
The higher-seeded Wolverines failed to pull away in the second quarter, too. In fact, with just a few seconds to play, Michigan was trailing by one. In the last possession of the first half, Leigha Brown drove into the lane and dropped off a beautiful no-look pass to Elise Stuck, who knocked down a jumper to give UM a one-point advantage going into the second half.
Penn State’s grittiness was evident in the second half, too, as the Nittany Lions showed no signs of tiredness 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 going into 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 trailed by only 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 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 Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, where they will face No. 4 seed Ohio State.
The Buckeyes defeated Michigan in each of the first two regular-season matchups. Ohio State features a feisty full-court press, which UM struggles with, as was shown in Thursday afternoon’s win.
The newest edition in the rivalry will begin at roughly 3 pm on Friday afternoon. The game will air on the Big Ten Network.
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