BATON ROUGE, La. (AP)Emily Kiser leads Michigan, by far, in the basketball equivalent of football helmet stickers for the number of winning plays she’s made this season – from diving for loose balls to taking charges.
There are more than 40 stickers in her locker now, according to coach Kim Barnes Arico – more than double the number of any teammate. And there will be more to come before the women’s NCAA Tournament is over.
Kiser had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Maddie Nolan added 18 points, and sixth-seeded Michigan beat 11th-seeded UNLV 71-59 in the first round on Friday, snapping the Rebels’ 22-game winning streak.
“Our team had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder,” said Barnes Arico, whose team had entered the tournament having lost three of four. “We lost a couple games down the stretch but we weren’t completely healthy.
“With everyone back, I think our players really have that confidence,” added Barnes Arico, whose team made the Elite Eight last season. “They also have that experience.”
Leigha Brown scored 17 points for the Wolverines (23-9), who used their advantages in size and physicality to build and keep a double-digit lead for much of their opening game in the Greenville 2 region.
UNLV “didn’t see the defense we play with – and the Big Ten plays with – night in and night out,” Brown said. “We knew that if were aggressive and punched first, it was going to be really hard for them to get into sets that they want.”
The Wolverines will face third-seeded LSU in the second round.
UNLV (31-3) came up one short of the longest winning streak in program history. Its Mountain West Tournament title victory had tied a mark reached previously in the 1978-79 and 1989-90 seasons.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the season that we’ve had,” UNLV coach Lindy La Rocque said. “Obviously this one stings and it’s going to be with us for a little bit.”
The Rebels came in unbeaten (27-0) when scoring 69 or more points – a total they could not reach against a Michigan team that outrebounded them 41-31.
Essence Booker scored 16 points for UNLV, while Justice Ethridge and Desi-Rae Young each scored 11.
Booker said the Rebels were in some of their worst form this season to start the game.
“It looked like a practice we came to off of vacation,” she said, but added, “I am going to hold my head high, just because I am proud of what we’ve done and this loss doesn’t dictate all the things that we’ve done and made history in our program.”
Michigan took the lead for good when guard Laila Phelia’s offensive rebound set up Brown’s second-chance layup to make it 9-7 in the first quarter.
The Wolverines led by as many as 13 points in the second quarter before Kenadee Winfrey and Ethridge each hit 3s during an 8-0 run that helped UNLV get as close as five points.
Michigan led 28-20 at halftime. The Wolverines took a 17-point lead when Kiser scored eight points on a free throw, two layups and a 3 during a 12-0 run that made it 48-31 late in the third period. UNLV only got as close as nine points after that.
“We really take (defense) into our identity,” Kiser said. “In the first half, when we weren’t scoring, we were trying to get those stops – and that has to be your mindset.”
CRASHING THE BOARDS
Wearing a brace on her left knee and playing in her third game since missing seven with a leg injury, Phelia exerted her influence on the game defensively. She grabbed career-high 11 rebounds to go with her eight points – less than half of her scoring average of 16.9.
“The biggest thing for me was just understanding that I’m still trying to get in the offensive swing of things, missing a lot of games, I’m still trying to get in the flow of stuff,” Phelia said. “So, I thought to myself, ‘OK, what can I do to help our team?’ And that was rebounding.
“I feel like once I put my mind to something that I can accomplish it,” Phelia added, “and I wanted to help the team in that way.”
UNLV: Shot 28% (7 of 25) from 3-point range, well below its season-low average of 33.8% coming in. … Shot 38% (23 of 60) overall, also well below its 46.3% average for the season.
Michigan: Converted 12 offensive rebounds into 13 second-chance points. … Finished with a 20-14 advantage in points off turnovers. … Barnes Arico improved to 10-0 in first-round NCAA Tournament games.
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