Dominance down low opens up offense in win against Penn State

Tuesday, December 31, 2019 - 6:12pm

Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon helped Michigan open up its 3-point shooting by scoring inside.

Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon helped Michigan open up its 3-point shooting by scoring inside. Buy this photo
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After Michigan’s first four field goals all came from right at the hoop, it was clear that its offense against Penn State would run through the paint. 

But in the Wolverines’ 82-48 win on Tuesday, their dominance in the paint allowed them to score from other positions and contributed to a more diverse offensive attack. 

“I think it made the defense have to adjust,” said junior forward Hailey Brown. “If you’re taking away the paint, then the outside is gonna be open, and that’s when you can make the 3-pointers. But then teams have to come out after you start making your shots, and then the paint’s wide open.”

Michigan can regularly rely on its bigs to score points in most games. Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon in particular has been the team’s most dependable scorer, with a team-leading 14.9 points per game. On Tuesday, she tallied eight points in the first quarter — all off layups or fouls down low — demonstrating Michigan’s superiority in the paint. 

“We knew that we were going to have mismatches,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “(Penn State) went small to start the game so we knew that we would be able to take advantage of Naz … early on.”

Even with Hillmon sitting with two fouls early in the second quarter, the Wolverines found inside scoring from other sources. Sophomore forward Emily Kiser and freshman center Izabel Varejão took over for Hillmon down low and each scored on athletic post moves in the second quarter. 

“Izabel’s got great size and great length, and Emily has such high IQ,” Barnes Arico said. “I think they’re a tough matchup for teams.”

They were helped by sophomore guard Amy Dilk, who tallied five assists in the first half — four of which resulted in easy layups — and added two layups of her own. Her ability to feed open teammates contributed to a lethal post attack that opened up offensive opportunities outside. 

Michigan had been a combined 4-for-29 from three in its previous two games — losses to Florida State and Maryland — and it desperately needed to find its rhythm from beyond the arc. With the Nittany Lions swarming the paint, the 3-point shot was much more open, and the Wolverines were able to capitalize. They finished the game with eight triples, including three each from Brown and freshman guard Michelle Sidor. 

“Once we got our first to fall, the next kind of came in sync,” Barnes Arico said. “It helped Michelle’s confidence, and it helped Hailey’s confidence for sure.”

The Wolverines’ ability to score from a wide range of positions will be crucial as they continue into Big Ten play. If they can continue to produce down low against tougher defenses, it will make life much easier for their shooters outside and likely lead to more success elsewhere on the floor.