2023 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament: #7 Michigan Women’s Basketball (22-9) vs. #10 UNLV Rebels (31-2)
Records: No. 6 Michigan (22-9, 11-7 Big Ten); No. 11 UNLV (31-2, 18-0 Mountain West).
Tip: 3 p.m. Friday; Pete Maravich Convention Center, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
On the game: The winner meets the winner of LSU No. 3 vs. No. 14 Hawaii on Sunday (5:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN2) for a spot in Sweet 16.
• Box Score
The Wolverines, 10-10 all-time, are playing in their fifth straight NCAA tournament and made an elite-eight appearance last season. The Rebels, on the other hand, played the tournament last season for the first time since 2002 and are 3-9 all-time; UNLV has not won in the NCAAs since beating Texas Tech in the first round in 1991. (The Rebels then lost to Georgia in the second round.)
Michigan Wolverines guard Jordan Hobbs (10) scores against the Michigan State Spartans during the fourth quarter Saturday, January 14, 2023 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor.
Four on the floor
While there are plenty of talented players in both rosters, here are four players – two Wolverines and two Rebels – who could make it big on Friday:
U-Ms Star: G Leigha Brown
Brown returned for a fifth season after averaging 18.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game in the shadow of superstar Naz Hillmon. After Hillmon departed that season, Brown rose a game en route to an All-America honorable mention from the Associated Press with 18 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals. Just one of three women averaging 18/5/5 this season — the others are Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Kahlaijah Dean of Sacramento State (who played four seasons in Oakland). Brown does most of her work in the paint, shooting 58.2% from inside the arc on 263 attempts and 30.2% from behind the line on 63 attempts. When Brown scores, the Wolverines are hard to stop; they are 10-3 when they scored at least 20 points. (Although two of those three losses involved Brown scoring 30 or more points.)
From the bench for UM: G Jordan Hobbs
The Ohio native actually started in the Wolverines’ last nine games before the NCAA tournament and rose to the starting lineup after fellow sophomore Laila Phelia was injured on Jan. 29. (Phelia returned in a reserve role for the Wolverines’ two Big Ten tournament games.) Three of Hobbs’ four double-digit scoring games took place at this stretch, including a 16-point performance (in 6-for-15 shooting) vs. Wisconsin on February 26. Hobbs is one of the better 3-point shooters – connecting at 34.7% from beyond the arc – on a team that doesn’t need many of them. (Michigan’s 17.7 3-point attempts per game ranked only 216th out of 350 teams, even though their 33.8% success rate ranked 75th.)
The story goes on
UNLV center Desi-Rae Young (23) shoots as Colorado State forward Karly Murphy (42) shoots in the first half of an NCAA collegiate basketball game for the championship of the Mountain West Conference women’s tournament Wednesday, May 9. March 2022, defended in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
UNLV’s Star: C Desi-Rae Young
Born in California but raised in Las Vegas, the 6-foot-1 young only had two scholarship offers from high school. (Pepperdine was the other.) Whoops. The social work major was last season’s Mountain West Player of the Year and produced the first team at the conference this season after leading all in rebounds (10.2) per game and points (18.2) per game was second. Oh, and she also averaged 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals per game. Young is shooting 59.7% this season, with all but three of her 397 attempts ending up inside the arc. (Don’t sleep on her 3-point shoot though – she took one of those 3 long-range shots.)
From the bench for UNLV: G Kiara Jackson
The 5-foot-7 Texas native made a big impression in her second season with UNLV. Jackson is averaging 7.9 points, 2.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 24.7 minutes per game while shooting 37.3% overall and 30.8% on 3-pointers, earning her sixth-place finish honors of the Year at Mountain West. She helped the Rebels recover from their December loss to Oklahoma State, in which they played without stars Alyssa Brown and Nneka Obiazor, with 21 points in 29 minutes off the bench against Northern Arizona and 20 points as a starter in 33 minutes a week later against Wyoming. Jackson also put up 18 points in the 6-for-14 shooting against the Air Force last month.
Ryan Ford’s prediction
Despite the disappointment of losing the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament (to Ohio State, no less), the extra time-out is probably the Wolverines’ best friend, allowing Laila Phelia to fully heal and a UM roster that four lost his last six. Count on Phelia to make it big with fifth-year forward Emily Kiser, who averaged 16.8 points and 8.2 boards during that span, as the insurance plan. The selection: UM 75, UNLV 67.
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This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: 2023 NCAA Tournament: Michigan Women’s Basketball vs. UNLV: Time, TV