Is Leigha Brown back?
After her stellar performance at the Daytona Beach Invitational over the weekend, it appears that way.
After a leg injury that left her day-to-day through the beginning of the season, the senior wing hadn’t seen the consistent minutes to show her offensive prowess she had last year. Yet, at the Daytona Beach Invitational, where the Michigan women’s basketball team went 2-0 in its toughest stretch of the season, Brown was a major focal point in both wins.
Last season, Brown played 33.6 minutes per game and was the Wolverines’ second-leading scorer, averaging 18.2 points per game. She also led the team in steals. This season she’s seen just 22.2 minutes per game, and is well below her scoring average from a year ago.
In the first game of this season against IUPUI, Brown played consistent minutes despite her injury, but it was apparent she wasn’t playing to her typical caliber. She looked sluggish running the floor and wasn’t bringing the same energy on defense.
Brown played one more game against St. Francis Brooklyn and only clocked two minutes before sitting the bench for the next three games. Her presence on the floor was missed as the Wolverines struggled to produce offensively and had to hang on in many close wins. With senior guard Amy Dilk also out due to injury, most of the offensive responsibilities fell to senior forward Naz Hillmon.
But over the weekend, Brown returned in a big way and sparked two wins against tough non-conference teams.
In Michigan’s weekend opener against then-No. 16 Oregon State, Brown came off the bench and led a rally in the second half to bring Michigan to victory, scoring 10 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter alone. Flashing last season’s one-two punch between Brown and Hillmon, the two carried the team in the fourth quarter.
“We tried to get (Hillmon) on an open side a little bit more, where there wouldn’t be a defender to be able to come in and help. We ran that a little bit late with Naz and Leigha in some two man action,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the Oregon State game. “And I thought that Leigha made some plays too.”
In the Wolverines’ second game of the invitational against Mississippi State, Brown continued to ride the success from the previous game. She started on the bench once again, but quickly became a focal point on the floor.
Brown led Michigan’s offensive efforts, ending the game with 23 points, five rebounds and three assists.
“We’re a different team with Leigha. She’s one of the best guards in the country,” Barnes Arico said after the Mississippi State game. “It was nice to have her this weekend. She’s a difference maker.”
Brown’s performance over the weekend has shown she’s still capable of attaining her high level of play from last season, and the Wolverines will need her to be at her best in order to reach their goals.
Without Brown, Michigan struggled to generate offense and played a few very close games. With Brown, the Wolverines could finally reach the upper echelon of women’s basketball and complete their dream of winning a Big Ten Championship.
While it’s still too early to tell if Brown’s back at full capacity, one thing is for sure.
The Wolverines need her to be the Leigha Brown of last year.