Hillmon's 35 points propel Michigan to 95-62 victory over Oakland
You would never have known this was only Naz Hillmon and the Michigan women’s basketball team’s second game in 266 days. But not even two minutes into the game, the junior forward was already well on her way to a career performance.
If you blinked you would have missed the scoring onslaught that was the first two minutes of the game. Hillmon scored Michigan’s first 10 points and the Wolverines never looked back as they went into offensive overdrive to beat Oakland, 95-62. This was their second-straight win and second-straight 90-point game to open the season.
“I was really happy with the way that we came out,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We were able to find Naz early on and get her touches early in the game and establish our post play against their size.”
Hillmon, who finished with 35 points, was not made available to reporters after the game.
The Wolverines continued their hot start after their win on Wednesday by controlling all aspects of the game from start to finish. However, there was a notable change at the beginning. Fifth-year senior guard Akienreh Johnson was inactive after suffering a lower-leg injury in the season opener. She injured her leg in the middle of the game Wednesday and did not return.
Sophomore guard Maddie Nolan took Johnson’s spot in the starting lineup, stepping in and filling that absence with a solid performance. Nolan led the team in rebounding with nine rebounds and had zero turnovers. Her lack of turnovers helped Michigan greatly, but it still committed 19 turnovers as a team, continuing a theme from last year.
But Hillmon’s offensive prowess masked any minor problems. The clear offensive leader of the team, she singlehandedly outscored the Golden Grizzlies by herself in the first quarter, scoring 19 points. She made her presence known quickly scoring 15 of Michigan’s first 23 points, leading her team to a 34-point first quarter.
The offensive dominance and efficiency didn’t end with Hillmon, though. The Wolverines shot 52.2% from the field by utilizing a rotation that has impressed early on. Depth is one of the team’s biggest strengths in this young season. They are using it to their advantage. With Johnson sidelined and Hillmon consistently drawing double-teams in the paint, the younger players had ample opportunities to showcase their talent.
With Hillmon’s impressive start, Michigan sustained a large lead throughout the game, allowing Barnes Arico to open up the rotation and use the bench’s depth.
“I think that’s really important (having depth),” Barnes Arico said. “If you can establish yourself and your veterans can establish themselves early to give an opportunity for some of those young kids to get that experience early in their career. And I thought we did a tremendous job of that tonight. And that allowed our freshmen to get significant minutes.”
Underclassmen saw increased playing time in the second half. They seized this opportunity and showed just how valuable the Wolverines’ depth will be going forward. Freshman forward Cameron Williams, freshman forward Whitney Sollom and sophomore guard Michelle Sidor each had impressive performances.
“I thought Whitney Sollom and Cameron Williams were outstanding,” Barnes Arico said. “It's nice when you have your freshman be able to go right in and contribute the way that they did rebounding the basketball and finishing around the rim.”
Williams and Sollom continued to prove themselves as the leading freshman in their deep class. Both have incredible size and length to help them grab rebounds and they helped lock down Oakland on the defensive end. Williams came in to back up Hillmon and used her size to score nine points and pick up six rebounds in only 10 minutes. Sollom played mostly in the fourth quarter, grabbing five rebounds. With the remaining non-conference schedule still up in the air, these freshmen will have to prove themselves again against tougher Big Ten competition.
Sophomore guard Michelle Sidor helped the team in a big way by knocking down key shots from long range. She shot 3-of-4 from 3-point range. Her ability to shoot from the perimeter efficiently helped Michigan spread the floor and create opportunities for others in the paint. Sidor’s shooting troubles that plagued much of her freshman year appear to be dwindling thus far. 3-point shooting has been a major emphasis as they have hardly shot from deep in recent years. Sidor’s performance helped Michigan shoot 50% from 3-point range.
Hillmon helped the Wolverines dominate both sides of the glass. Hilmon had five offensive rebounds herself and the team had 21. The Wolverines outrebounded Oakland overall, 52-20, creating ample second- and third-chance opportunities.
This lopsided game comes after Oakland recently got out of a two-week quarantine for COVID-19 exposure. They only had two practices in between their two weeks off and opened its season today against Michigan. The Wolverines have so far avoided any practice pauses for COVID-19.
Despite having a significant lead the entire game, Michigan played tough basketball the whole game and cruised to a 33-point win. Barnes Arico is now 71-6 in her Michigan career when her team scores more than 80 points, which it has in both games this season.
“We just don’t want to let our foot off the gas,” Barnes Arico said. “It gives an opportunity for some of the younger kids to play, but we still want to get better on the defensive end, and we still want to limit our turnovers. It’s just a new opportunity for some of the younger kids to play, but still playing Michigan basketball.”
Ultimately, it was Hillmon’s prolific offensive play that helped showcase the team’s depth and lead them to completely dominate the Golden Grizzlies on both ends of the court.
If Hillmon can continue her offensive tear, she will not only help her team succeed, but she will give her supporting cast much needed experience. If those happen, there’s no telling how high this team can climb.