With 9.8 seconds left and her No. 19 Michigan Wolverines up 74-68 on the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels, Leigha Brown threw a deep inbound pass from her baseline to Laila Phelia near mid-court. Phelia caught it like a wide receiver just ahead of two defensive backs and took it in for a layup that sealed the deal on a 76-68 victory Tuesday night in the Jumpman Invitational at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Wolverines (11-1, 1-0 Big Ten) had led by as much as 23 and only had to sweat late. Brown scored 13 points in a first quarter that saw her go 3-of-3 from deep and Michigan go 12-of-16 from the field, and she finished with a game-high 25 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Phelia scored 11 points in the first and finished with 20 to go along with three helpers. Leading scorer and rebounder Emily Kiser was held to nine points and five boards, but made a key play down the stretch and dished out a game-high six assists. Chyra Evans rounded out Michigan’s key contributors with seven points, nine boards and four blocks.
A 5-0 run by UNC’s Kennedy Todd-Williams cut the Tar Heels’ deficit to seven with 20 seconds remaining and Alyssa Ustby cut it to six with a layup at the 9.8-second mark.
Fortunes began to change for UNC (9-2, 0-0 ACC) when leading scorer Deja Kelly was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 2:30 remaining in the third. She buried all three free throws and made two more free throws 35 seconds later for a 5-0 individual run that cut her team’s deficit to 12. After an exchange of scores, that was the Tar Heels’ deficit entering the fourth as well.
Kelly had the opportunity to cut it to 10 when she was awarded four free throws after a personal foul Phelia and a technical foul on Brown, both at the 8:25 mark of the fourth. Kelly made just 2-of-4, but teammate Eva Hodgson cut it to nine on a triple eight seconds later.
The Heels next gained a point on the deficit when Todd-Williams and Kelly trapped Brown, allowing Kelly came away with the ball for a fast break layup that cut it to eight with 4:37 to play. Brown answered with a free throw line jumper and then Kiser may have made the play of the game when she caught a Phelia airball one-handed and made a reverse layup to push the lead back to 12 at 1:50 remaining. Todd-Williams still made her run to cut it to seven, but at least she wasn’t cutting it closer than that.
Kiser getting fouled led to the first media timeout. Out of the break, she sunk two free throws to put Michigan up 18-13. It was the beginning of 19-7 run that closed the first quarter and put the Wolverines up 35-20. Brown scored eight points on the run, including making two of her three treys in the opening frame. Evans also made a three during the stretch.
UNC scored the first four points of the second quarter, but Michigan answered with a 12-0 run to go up 47-24. Brown scored the first four points of the run before appearing to suffer a blow to her knee or lower thigh area and exiting. She would return later in the frame. The Wolverines didn’t miss a beat in her absence; two Alyssa Crockett threes highlighted the rest of the run.
The Tar Heels went on another small run (6-0) after that, but still trailed by a significant amount (17) at the break.
Before the first media timeout, the largest lead for either side was five, held by Michigan twice. The Wolverines led 11-6 after an Evans layup in transition and 16-11 after a Phelia pull-up mid-range make.
Kelly going 2-of-13 from the field and 0-of-2 from three hurt the Heels. She did finish with a solid 15 points though because of an 11-of-13 effort at the charity stripe. She also had five rebounds and five helpers, while Ustby added 11 points, 11 boards, four assists and two swipes.