Leigha Brown hustled back on the court after she drained an electrifying shot from behind the arc in the second quarter. It was almost as if the ball was carried through the air straight into the basket, providing one of the key moments that led to a Michigan rout of Central Michigan, 93-74.
In her first game for the Wolverines, the junior wing lit up the Chippewas. The transfer from Nebraska started and went 9-for-13 in shooting, making one of the three 3-point shots made all game by Michigan and tallying up 22 points with five assists in her Ann Arbor debut.
Brown scored the second-most points on the team, trailing only Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year junior forward Naz Hillmon, who had 26 points and high praise for Brown.
“I’m sure you guys saw her speed, getting up and down the court, which is amazing,” Hillmon said. “It opened things up, she can knock down the mid-range or the three. She’s just got all the tools in her back pocket.”
Last year, Brown was the lead scorer for the Huskers, averaging 14.4 points per game. She also won the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year award. Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico hoped Brown would add another dimension to the Wolverines’ offense, and Brown showcased her potential.
“She comes in and is able to make an immediate impact with her ability to score the basketball,” Barnes Arico said. “But she’s also pretty athletic. She can affect the game on the defensive end, and she can run the floor as well.”
Brown could be seen running the floor for all 29 minutes she played. She had three defensive rebounds and three steals, causing a few key defensive stops that allowed Michigan to go on an 11-0 run in the third quarter. She played aggressively on offense, despite some first half struggles.
“I think definitely at the start I was a little jittery, a little rusty with turnovers. But I think just throughout the game I naturally just kind of settled in,” Brown said.
Brown and the Wolverines haven’t played a game since March, and a sloppy first half marked with 11 turnovers and nine personal fouls compared to CMU’s four turnovers and seven personal fouls put their rustiness on full display.
“Not playing since March definitely plays a part in those fouls that we got,” Hillmon said. “We don’t really call them in practice so you get to the game and you find out that some of the things you’ve been doing all summer are fouls.”
Despite its first-half struggles, Michigan led by eight points at the half and never lost the lead in the second half of the game. Brown made an immediate impact for Michigan and complemented Hillmon well, especially in a game where starting junior guard Amy Dilk, who was expected to be a 1-2 offensive punch with Hillmon, was locked down in the first half, only scoring four points. Teams facing the Wolverines will have a large problem locking down Dilk, Hillmon, and Brown at the same time. While Central Michigan held Dilk to just 15 points overall, Brown and Hillmon led an offensive attack that couldn’t be stopped.
“I’ve been excited to play (with Brown) since she committed here,” Hillmon said. “Obviously we hated playing against her so now having her on our team is a blessing.