As the No. 17 Michigan women’s basketball team continues its campaign to replicate last season’s historic success, the legacy of Naz Hillmon still looms large in conversations about the team’s identity. Replacing her production as a scorer, defender and leader remain at the forefront of conversation about the team’s current prospects.
But less attention has been paid to the player replacing her in Michigan’s lineup, junior forward Cameron Williams.
“Cam is stepping up a lot,” graduate forward Emily Kiser said on Nov. 25. “We’ve seen a lot of good things in practice lately. So we knew good things would come in games. She’s probably one of the strongest people I’ve ever played with.”
The Wolverines are on a roll to start the season, having just won the Gulf Coast Showcase after knocking off No. 21 Baylor in the tournament final. Williams’ development has been key to their success, and she is evolving into an important piece in Michigan’s rotation alongside Kiser — but she must continue to improve in order for the Wolverines to compete once conference play begins.
Kiser has been Michigan’s best player so far this year, and Williams’ improved offensive play has made the two together a formidable duo down low. In Sunday’s clash with the Bears, the two made crucial plays at the offensive end, helping fend off Baylor’s late comeback attempts. Williams finished with 10 points and a steal, and the two kept the Wolverines in the game throughout with physical offensive play.
“(Kiser) and Cameron Williams got in there,” sophomore guard Laila Phelia said on Nov 27. “They helped us by coming up with those boards. I feel like that was game changing.”
While her offensive performances have been consistent, Williams has struggled defensively at times this season. Against Western Michigan and Fairfield, guard-heavy lineups and unfavorable matchups put her in foul trouble, forcing Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico to limit her minutes. Against the Stags in particular, the Wolverines struggled to play cohesive defense with Williams on the floor — and Barnes Arico pulled her in favor of smaller lineups.
After that game though, she acknowledged Williams’ importance in the Michigan offensive rotation:
“We’ve got to get Cameron going again,” Barnes Arico said. “That will relieve some of the pressure.”
In the first round matchup this past weekend, against another undersized team, Williams took a backseat to Michigan’s guards. But over the final two matches en route to a tournament championship, she played a key role, adding 18 points and 8 rebounds between the two — including two crucial free throws to seal the win against Baylor.
Most importantly, though, she played nearly 30 minutes in each.
To this point in the season, Williams’ defensive limitations have kept her off the court in spite of any offensive success. Through five games, despite efficient scoring, she averaged just 17.4 minutes per game. Early foul trouble kept her mileage markedly lower than the other Wolverine starters. Reaching 29 and 28 minutes in a two-game stretch, therefore, is a testament to her overall improvement — proving that she is more than just a scoring threat.
“For her it’s continuing to improve on the defensive side,” Kiser said. “To play lockdown. We have some bigger post players coming up here. But there has been a lot of improvement for her, and hopefully it continues to go up.”
In a limited sample size, Williams is showing that development: scoring consistently, creating opportunities for her teammates and increasing her versatility at the defensive end. In doing so, she’s shown some ability to guard both in and outside the post without fouling.
But in order for Michigan to maintain its success against a loaded Big Ten, Williams will need to continue to prove herself as a viable starter at both ends.