Halfway through the first quarter, Naz Hillmon stood poised and ready at the top of the arc, a foot behind the 3-point line. The senior forward caught the ball, and without hesitation, drilled a shot from deep. Hillmon would repeat the same play just minutes later, making yet another 3-pointer — surpassing her one 3-point attempt in her entire career.
In the Michigan women’s basketball team exhibition home opener, 3-point shooting was key in the Wolverines’ win over Grand Valley State, 80-57. Hillmon’s early deep threes were indicative of the rest of the teams’ success behind the arc.
The Wolverine’s first 12 points of the game came from behind the arc. Senior guard Amy Dilk put the first points on the board from deep. Staying hot from behind the 3-point line, junior guard Maddie Nolan and senior guard Danielle Rauch both contributed the next two consecutive 3-pointers.
The Lakers sat back in a zone, intending to pack the paint, trying to keep the ball out of Hillmon’s hands in the post. Instead, Grand Valley allowed Michigan to showcase its 3-point shooting talent.
“I think it really set the tone because they were trying to pack the paint so much and really key on Naz,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “We had to make some open shots and we were able to do that.”
Junior forward Michelle Sidor also contributed, going 3-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. While 3-point shooting was most consistent for the Wolverines in the first quarter, it proved to be reliable down the stretch. Nolan notched another 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter, alongside freshman forward Jordan Hobbs who sunk one late in the fourth.
In the second half, Grand Valley State moved away from the zone, back into one-on-one defense. At this point, Hillmon was able to get her typical post touches. The early three-point shooting opened up the paint later in the game, something Michigan has struggled with in the past.
“As soon as my teammates started hitting shots (Grand Valley) had to go out and close out, and it left me open,” Hillmon said. “So I think that’s how we were able to kind of flip-flop it, you know (my teammates) hit the threes, and then I hit the twos.”
Overall, the Wolverines went 10-for-21 from three, a margin they never achieved last season. Their highest number of made 3-pointers last season was 9 — which they only reached three times.
Three-point shooting could be a dynamic piece of the Wolverines’ offense moving forward. Opposing teams have previously thrown zone defense into their game plan, trying to contain Hillmon in the paint. Even though Hillmon can typically work around those zones, having an outside shooting presence spreads the floor out much more. Additionally, if Hillmon can continue to score at all three levels, she’ll be very challenging to guard.
“It’s going to make her really hard to guard if she plays that way,” Barnes Arico said. “And being such an inside presence that she is, if she can play inside-outside I think she’s unstoppable.”
Three-point shooting from the rest of the offense will also make guarding Michigan increasingly hard — and could be the key to the Wolverines’ future success.