Laila Phelia defends against a Toledo player at the top of the key. Her knees are bent and she is low to the ground ready to move on defense, as she stares intently at her opponent.
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Basketball players are not often associated with “three-headed monsters.” Those creatures are usually mentioned in the context of mythological dragons, or perhaps Harry Potter villains.

But for Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, it was the first thing that came to mind when describing the No. 18 Michigan women’s basketball team’s three leading scorers — fifth-year wing Leigha Brown, sophomore guard Laila Phelia and graduate forward Emily Kiser. Asked about her game plan against the Wolverines’ offensive threats after the Hawkeyes’ win on Jan. 7, Bluder wasted no time praising Michigan’s scoring trio — but she did so in an unusual way.

“They’re kind of a three-headed monster right now,” Bluder said. “With Kiser, Phelia and Brown all really, really capable offensive players.”

With 20 points from Brown, 19 from Kiser and 16 from Phelia, the trio combined for almost two-thirds of the Wolverines’ 85 points in the loss to Iowa. Michigan ultimately failed to overcome the Hawkeyes’ offensive firepower, but the “three-headed monster” effectively kept the Wolverines in the game.

And that monster didn’t just rear its head against the Hawkeyes. It’s been the driving force of Michigan’s success all year long, and it will be key for the Wolverines as they enter the heart of March.

“I definitely feel like us three out there is pretty tough (for opponents),” Phelia said after beating Rutgers Jan. 19, a game in which the trio combined for 61 points. “We all have great chemistry.”

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Phelia went down with an injury against Minnesota Jan. 29, sidelining her for more than a month. Michigan was forced to replace her production — a tall task given that she averages 16.9 points per game.

On top of that loss, Brown — who leads the team with 18 points per game — was also sidelined due to an internal issue for the final two matchups of the regular season. Without two of the monster’s three faces, the Wolverines found themselves struggling to stay afloat. 

Against the Scarlet Knights on Feb. 23, Michigan failed to find consistent scoring in a surprisingly close contest through the first 20 minutes. The Wolverines were only able to pull away with the help of a career night from Kiser, who put up 34 points and a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Matched up against Wisconsin three days later, however, Kiser wasn’t able to supplement the missing production once again. Michigan suffered an unexpected upset in its final regular season game, a testament to the importance of the complete “three-headed monster.”

Each member of the trio brings something different to the table. Their skills complement and complete each other’s, one of the fundamental reasons behind their potency as a unit.

Brown, a wing-turned-point-guard due to Michigan’s lack of a true floor leader, is the mid-range shooter and passer of the trio. She averages 5.9 assists per game and is lethal when she pulls up for her trademark jumper. Brown also brings unmatched aggressiveness and energy to the court, inspiring the same of her teammates.

Complementing her, Kiser serves as Michigan’s quiet-but-effective scorer and leader, bringing tough post play and reliable scoring in the paint. She draws charges and battles for loose balls, setting the standard for the Wolverines’ hustle and grit.

Rounding out the trio, Phelia is the strongest defender of the group — and the entire Michigan roster. An impressive all-around athlete, she also brings a balanced attack on offense, both driving to the basket and knocking down shots from behind the arc.

Together, they form the “three-headed monster” — a force to be reckoned with all over the court.

“Just being able to be out there with them is amazing,” Phelia said. “And it’s scary for other teams.”

Heading into the final stretch of the postseason, Michigan will surely look to the newly healthy trio as it attempts to put together an NCAA Tournament run. If Brown, Kiser and Phelia can really embrace the moniker, scaring other teams is exactly what they’ll be able to do — and could be just what the Wolverines need.