Michigan women’s basketball spent February and the first week of March getting back in sync after playing seven games without star sophomore Laila Phelia.
Turns out, all they needed was Maddie Nolan to find her stroke. The guard hit seven of 10 shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, as the Wolverines defeated 11th-seeded UNLV 71-59 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Baton Rouge, La.
Nolan finished the race with 18 points, one of three UM starters to score in double digits. Leigha Brown had 17 points and added seven assists while Emily Kiser had 18 points and 10 rebounds. Phelia had eight points and 11 rebounds.
Brown summed up Nolan’s impact succinctly in her postgame interview on ESPNU: “When Maddie shoots like today,” Brown said, “it’s hard to beat us.”
The Wolverines made them just as difficult to beat, almost completely knocking out UNLV star center Desi-Rae Young, who was averaging 18.2 points per game. Young had just 11 points on Friday’s 5-for-12 shooting. Essence Booker led UNLV with 16 points but needed 21 shot attempts (with seven hits) to get there.
Michigan Wolverines guard Elise Stuck (30) is lifted off the ground by guard Leigha Brown (32) and forward Cameron Williams (44) after they scored during the first half at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana were fouled by the UNLV Lady Rebels, on Friday 17 March 2023.
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Next, the Wolverines meet the winner of Friday’s game between 3-seeded LSU, hosts of Rounds 1 and 2, and 14-seeded Hawaii. The winner of Sunday’s game then travels to the Sweet 16 in Greenville, South Carolina.
Friday’s win seemed far from certain early in the first quarter as both teams struggled to hit their shots and UNLV went 7-5 ahead with 6:24 remaining in the third. But Nolan connected it with a jumper about 30 seconds later, and the Wolverines took over from there, holding the Rebels to just two points on a 12-2 run for the rest of the quarter.
Phelia capped the run in the first quarter with a sharp left-hand layup after driving all the way from the halffield in the last three seconds. When the horn blew, she flicked the ball up and over her defender. It hit the rim a couple of times and then fell through.
The story goes on
The Wolverines kept it going in the second round, with Maddie Nolan hitting a 3-pointer from almost the LSU logo eight seconds later and Cameron Williams converting a steal from Emily Kiser into a layup about 30 seconds later. Finally, after 1:14 of the quarter, Kiara Jackson made a layup to slow UM’s 17-2 run.
UM extended the lead to 13 when Kiser separated two free throws with 6:08 in the second, but UNLV climbed back in an unlikely way: The Rebels, whose 33.8% 3-point percentage ranked 75th in the nation, hit back -to-back 3s, with Kenadee Winfree and Justice Ethridge connecting from deep on either side of an offensive foul by Phelia. They were the only 3-point markers for the Rebels in the first half with eight misses. But UM’s defense quickly recovered, allowing the Rebels to score just one more goal in the final five minutes to go into half-time with a 28-20 lead.
UNLV came out hot after the break, hitting his first four shots while coming from within three points. But Michigan had an answer here, too, starting a 12-0 run with five points from Kiser, three from Maddie Nolan, a jumper from Brown and a layup from Phelia to extend the lead to 17 points with 2:34 remaining in the quarter . The Rebels responded with a 10-4 run, but the Wolverines were in complete control. They finished the third quarter with 26 points on 9-for-13 shooting, including three 3-pointers on three tries.
UNLV Rebels center Desi-Rae Young (23) passes the ball Friday, May 17.
Friday’s win marked the fifth straight NCAA tournament the Wolverines have won in the first round. Last season, Michigan advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Louisville. To get that far again, UM might need to beat 3-seed Utah into the Sweet 16, with a potential reunion with Big Ten rival Indiana awaiting in the top half of the bracket.
This article originally appeared in Detroit Free Press: Michigan Women’s Basketball Shutters UNLV to Advance in NCAA Tournament