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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Shauna Green spoke highly of Leigha Brown on the eve of Thursday night’s Big Ten women’s basketball matchup.
What the first-year Illinois coach saw the Michigan guard do to her Illini team a night later in person isn’t likely to change Green’s opinion of Brown anytime soon.
Brown orchestrated a big first half from the 18th-ranked Wolverines, who jumped out to a 23-point lead in the second quarter and had more than enough firepower down the stretch to hold off what turned out to be a futile Illinois comeback, as Michigan pulled away late for a 74-57 win in front of 2,676 fans at the Crisler Center.
So much for the Wolverines (18-5, 8-4 Big Ten) needing leading scorer Laila Phelia.
With Phelia absent due to a leg injury, Brown picked the perfect time to go off on the Illini (17-6, 7-5), scoring 15 of her game-high 27 points in the first half. The Michigan fifth-year guard wound up going 10 of 13 from the field and 7 of 7 at the free-throw line during the 17-point win.
The Wolverines built a 41-22 lead at halftime with Makira Cook and Adalia McKenzie both held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes for Illinois as the duo went a combined 0 of 7 from the field. McKenzie sat out with two fouls, while Cook was unable to find her shot against Michigan’s stingy zone defense in the first half.
The Illini slowly cut into their 21-point deficit in the third quarter by outscoring the Wolverines 19-14 in that 10-minute stretch but Michigan still took a 55-41 lead into the final quarter.
Illinois got as close as eight points twice during the fourth quarter on McKenzie’s putback layup with 5:18 left in regulation and later on Kendall Bostic’s layup with 4:33 to go.
But the Illini couldn’t come up with the defensive stops necessary to pull any closer, as the Wolverines scored 13 of the game’s final 17 points after Bostic’s bucket had the Michigan lead down to 61-53.
Bostic was tied for the team-high with 18 points on 9 of 13 shooting and added five rebounds and two blocks. Genesis Bryant also had 18 points, albeit after finishing 6 of 17 from the field.
Illinois will look to avoid its first losing streak this season when the Illini host Minnesota (9-13, 2-9) at 2 p.m. on Sunday at State Farm Center in Champaign.