For the first time in program history, the Michigan Wolverines women’s basketball team has advanced to the Elite Eight, beating the South Dakota Coyotes in the Sweet 16, 52-49.
In what felt like a road game with the sheer amount of South Dakota fans in the crowd, the Wolverines earned a tough win by pushing the pace, playing stout defense and getting clutch buckets when they needed them.
Here are a few takeaways from the win.
Laila Phelia and Leigha Brown controlled the pace of this game
This had all the makings of a potential South Dakota rout in the first few minutes. Star forward Naz Hillmon was smothered, missing her first three shots while baskets came easy for the Coyotes. While Hillmon still filled up the stat sheet after a slow start (17 points, 10 rebounds), other Wolverines stepped up in the scoring department to help the Wolverines get the win.
Michigan won this game by pushing the pace in transition, especially off South Dakota makes to squash momentum. Senior forward Leigha Brown (10 points, three rebounds, two assists) was the catalyst of this, whipping the ball up the court to find open teammates while taking it to the rack herself a few times. Her back-to-back buckets towards the end of the first quarter helped the Wolverines collect themselves off a shaky start.
Freshman guard Laila Phelia helped lead the Wolverines in that second quarter with some points of her own, with 12 of her 14 points coming in the opening 20 minutes. She was able to knock down some key threes off great feeds from Hillmon, and got what ended being the go-ahead bucket on a lay in from a really tough angle.
Maddie Nolan, Emily Kiser and Amy Dilk were the only other Wolverines to score in this game. They each had their moments on both ends, forcing key turnovers and converting on some tough shots to help in that second half.
Hillmon still led the way for the Wolverines in scoring and rebounding, but Michigan was able to win this game with a true team effort on that offensive end.
Hillmon is relentless
South Dakota center Hannah Sjerven may have been the best post player the Wolverines have faced all season, not letting Hillmon get comfortable and converting from all over the court on offense. Fortunately for Michigan, Sjerven struggled with foul trouble for a good portion of the game, and Michigan made sure to feed Hillmon when she was off the floor.
What makes Hillmon so great is her effort on both ends. She didn’t let a slow start offensively deter her and she continued to re-post and fight for rebounds to control the game.
Even while getting double and triple teamed, Hillmon was still able to get great post positioning. The play below was probably her best offensive play of the night, as she runs the floor and posts deep before finishing through contact for the momentum-swinging bucket.
That bucket was part of a 9-0 run in the third quarter that was crucial towards the win. Until then, they were rarely able to put together a few makes in a row.
When she wasn’t scoring, Hillmon was able to impact the game in other ways, helping the Wolverines win the rebounding battle (38-32) and passing quick out of double teams to garner three assists on the night.
Michigan’s team defense, especially late in this game, was exceptional. The Wolverines rotated so well, rarely letting the Coyotes get easy buckets late in that second half.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Wolverines after this, as they have a date with the No. 1 seed Louisville in the Elite Eight for a shot at the Final Four.
Earlier this season, the Wolverines got destroyed by the Cardinals, losing 70-48 for their first loss of the season. In order to avoid getting blown out again, the Wolverines need to continue to push the pace, play exceptional team defense and spread out the scoring.
If Hillmon can dominate in the paint and the rest of the squad can stay solid on both ends, they have a chance to make it to their first Final Four in program history.