For the third straight game in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan didn’t play up to its potential. It left shooters open, it forced entry passes, it missed shots, it missed layups, it got in foul trouble, it couldn’t hit a three to save its life. Still, at the end of the day, the Wolverines are heading to the Elite Eight for the first time in program history after beating No. 10-seed South Dakota 52-49.
The biggest play of the game came from freshman guard Laila Phelia. Her potential has been obvious all season: she’s capable of getting to the basket and finishing, hitting the occasional 3-pointer and being a lock-down defender. The Sweet 16 performance she put on showed all three of those and the final play showcased the most developed of those.
In a blown-up play as the shot-clock wound down, Phelia held the ball at the top of the key. The right side of the court was free of traffic thanks to a mix of screens and cuts. In a play she’s made time after time, she took that space and drove toward the basket. The lengthy layup banked off the glass and in, giving Michigan its final lead.
“When she had the ball in her hands, I was confident something good would happen if she wasn’t thinking about it and I just let her play and she was able to make that layup,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “That wasn’t the initial action but if she has the ball in her hands late in the shot clock, we want her to go to the basket for sure.”
Phelia ended the night with 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting and an 85.7 eFG%. All while playing just 23 minutes.