The Michigan women’s basketball team has yet to find a middle ground.
Between points in the paint and 3-point shooting, the strongest facet of the Wolverines’ offense varies from game to game. Sometimes it’s senior forwards Naz Hillmon and Emily Kiser dominating in the paint. Other times it’s junior guard Maddie Nolan lighting it up from behind the 3-point line.
But it hasn’t been both.
And Michigan doesn’t need it to be.
In a three-game stretch against Rutgers, Penn State and Maryland earlier this month, the 7th-ranked Wolverines shot over 45% from behind the 3-point line each game. Nolan, Michigan’s leading 3-point shooter, had a career-high 21 points against Maryland, going 7-for-13 from behind the arc.
“Our guards stepped up and just made play after play,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the win over Maryland. “And Maddie Nolan is one of the best 3-point shooters, and I’m happy that the whole world got a chance to see that tonight.”
During that three-game stretch, the points in the paint dipped significantly. The Wolverines scored just 22 paint points against Maryland, 18 points lower than their 40 game average. With Nolan’s success from the 3-point line, interior points weren’t necessary.
When 3-point shooting cooled off against Purdue, Hillmon and Kiser were ready to step back in. Hillmon notched 32 points alongside Kiser’s 12 in the low post in the bout with the Boilermakers. The duo, along with senior wing Leigha Brown slashing through the lane for easy layups, secured 54 points in the paint.
“We really try to get those paint touches early on offense,” Barnes Arico said after the Purdue game. “ … So it’s something that we emphasize and something that we work on for sure. But when you have two great post players, that makes it easy.”
Against Purdue, Nolan hit a few key threes but wasn’t relied upon to generate offense. With the team’s dominant post play, 3-pointers weren’t necessary.
Overall, the Wolverines have learned how to adjust and find the space that the opposing defense is giving them. If teams are concentrated in a zone surrounding Hillmon, Nolan is reliable enough to knock down a three. If opposing defenses are hedging hard on screens and attacking guards, Michigan’s post players are ready down low.
Past Wolverine teams would’ve relied too much on Hillmon to shoulder the offensive weight. But not this team.
The Wolverines are deep at every position, and they have the experience to understand the opposing teams’ scheme and adjust accordingly. While the offense still flows through Hillmon, the rest of the squad is capable of not only scoring but shining in the spotlight on any given night.
Opposing teams can’t just key in on one specific player when every player on the floor could be the leading scorer. The offensive depth Michigan has makes it a constant threat, and the duality of post and perimeter success only adds to that.
“Anybody can sub in for anybody at any moment and we feel like we really don’t lose anything,” Barnes Arico said after the Purdue game. “Sometimes it helps to give the (opposing) teams a different look and when you bring people in off the bench, that you’re not losing anything, that’s a really tough matchup for other teams.”
So maybe Michigan hasn’t found their balance yet. Or maybe it’s just this simple:
They don’t have to.