Senior forward Naz Hillmon found herself with the ball in the paint early in the first quarter. She threw up a layup that missed the cylinder, but managed to pull in the shot for an offensive rebound.
Soon after, Hillmon swung the ball to senior guard Danielle Rauch, who then found junior guard Maddie Nolan. In one fluid motion, Nolan seemingly started her shot before the ball even touched her hands.
And as she turned up court, her bomb tacked another three points on the No. 11 Michigan women’s basketball team’s lead, continuing a dominant first quarter that set a tone for its locked-in offense.
Nolan’s shot — the Wolverines second 3-pointer of the game — kicked off a barrage from beyond the arc that continued for the rest of the first quarter. Prior to Nolan’s shot, senior guard Leigha Brown opened the scoring by connecting from deep after pulling up from the right wing.
After starting 2-of-2 from deep, Michigan appeared to be oozing with confidence. The spacing created from recent success — and a hot start — from long range afforded opportunities for a multitude of perimeter shooters.
“I thought we were really confident on the offensive end,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico told WTKA after the game. “We really shot the ball extremely well, handled their pressure early, and established ourselves from the tip.”
Halfway through the quarter, Rauch found Nolan behind the arc again for another successful attempt from deep; Michigan’s fire from deep had quickly morphed into an inferno.
The perfect start from deep looked like it was in jeopardy as Brown launched her second 3-point attempt. But on this night, it was meant to be. The ball bounced high off the rim — seemingly suspended in midair — before it dropped through the net. The Wolverines’ first four attempts had all found the basket.
When Michigan hits its deep shots, it becomes almost impossible to guard them. With the formidable threats of Hillmon and senior forward Emily Kiser lurking in the paint, defenders can’t turn a blind eye on the interior unless they want to give up automatic looks at the rim. This creates the space the Wolverine shooters need to operate — the same space they exploited against the Nittany Lions. Add in confidence and Michigan’s offense becomes lethal on all three levels.
The quarter came to a close with senior guard Amy Dilk catching the ball in the corner after Brown swung the ball in her direction. Dilk’s shot dropped through the net after bouncing off the rim in a remarkably similar manner to Brown’s three just minutes earlier. Dilk’s 3-pointer capped off a perfect 5-for-5 first quarter from deep for the Wolverines.
The success from deep didn’t carry over through the rest of the game — in which Michigan shot just 2-for-10 from range — but it created the space the Wolverines needed to function on offense. With Penn State respecting Michigan’s perimeter shooting, for instance, Hillmon enjoyed plenty of space in the paint down the stretch.
“(Hillmon) took over the game,” Barnes Arico said. “It was nice to see that we were able to break their pressure and find her early in transition, which allowed her to be in a one-on-one which is never the case in the halfcourt. So I was proud of our guards for really finding her.”