Michigan missing Leigha Brown in close win over Nebraska

Thursday, January 7, 2021 - 8:15pm

With Leigha Brown absent, the Wolverines relied on junior forward Amy Dilk for offensive production.

With Leigha Brown absent, the Wolverines relied on junior forward Amy Dilk for offensive production. Buy this photo
Madeline Hinkley/Daily

Michigan needs Leigha Brown.

The junior wing has quickly become a leading scorer for the Michigan women’s basketball team, behind only junior forward Naz Hillmon. But above that she brings energy and poise to the floor. The Wolverine’s dependency on Brown, and her vitality to the team, was evident in their close win against Nebraska.

In a 64-62 victory, the offensive presence of Brown was missed most. Michigan narrowly escaped by riding on the coattails of Hillmon. Without Brown to add her average 20 points per game, Hillmon was left to do the offensive work. But instead of folding beneath that pressure, Hillmon did what she always does: produced. She contributed 22 rebounds — a career high — and 35 points.

Brown’s ability to connect with Hillmon in the low post and create a poised offensive flow was desperately needed tonight as Michigan struggled against an attacking Nebraska defense — allowing the Cornhuskers 15 points off Wolverines turnovers. Junior forward Amy Dilk tried to step into that role in Brown’s absence, but as point guard, her natural vantage point at the top of the key makes post entry passes difficult.

Most of the offensive responsibility fell on Dilk to fill in the gaps. She tried to preserve that energy Brown brings to the floor by driving more, but her role as a pass-first point guard is normally an important facet of the Wolverine’s offense. She added 11 points and eight rebounds, most of which only came in the second half. 

“I think (Dilk) realized when we were missing Leigha and … that she needed to score the basketball for us,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “Amy’s such a great point guard and she’s capable of affecting the game in so many ways. And she recognized that we needed her ability to get in the lane and to take some pull-ups to hit some shots to pass on down to Naz.”

The Wolverines’ best 3-point shooter, senior forward Hailey Brown, also struggled against Nebraska’s defense. Going 2-for-7 from the 3-point line, Hailey Brown added only eight points and sat out the majority of the third quarter due to foul trouble. 

The Wolverines can typically rely on Leigha Brown to add valuable points from behind the arc. In her last two games, she shot a combined ten 3-pointers, something Hailey Brown tried to make up for tonight.

Fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson added nine points, but went 0-for-5 from behind the arc and shot just 18.8% overall.

Without Brown, the combined efforts of Dilk, Hailey Brown and Johnson were barely enough to scrape past the Cornhuskers. Even Hillmon felt the effects with eight turnovers, the majority of which came late in the game as fatigue settled in.

Aside from Hillmon’s dominating post presence, the other saving grace for the Wolverines tonight was offensive rebounding. A team total of 30 offensive rebounds kept the ball out of the hands of Nebraska guards. As shots failed to fall all night for Michigan, offensive rebounding became crucial. 

Typically, Leigha Brown adds another layer of depth to the defensive end. She closes passing lanes with her lanky frame, and stops drives with her help-side defense. As Hillmon was left to battle in the post alone today against a taller post player than most teams have, Brown’s presence would have been valuable in double teams and rebounding.

“(Offensive rebounding) was super critical,” Barnes Arico said. “And we did a great job of it in the first half as well. We just didn’t score always off of our offensive rebounds. When we talked about that at halftime, at least we were not giving them the ability to get the ball back, which we thought was really important.”

Although Michigan was able to scrape by with a win against an aggressive Nebraska team, they’ll need their entire starting lineup to have a chance at finding success in the future.