Gravity. It’s the best way to describe what Naz Hillmon has on the court.
When the senior forward moves down toward the basket, defenders orbit around her. The sheer threat of Hillmon’s scoring ability is enough to draw swaths of opposing players’ attention.
It’s no secret that the Michigan women’s basketball offense runs through Hillmon. Her post presence constantly draws double teams that attempt to prevent her from exploiting mismatches against opposing bigs.
Hillmon isn’t a facilitator in the traditional sense of the word — she has tallied just four assists across two games this season — but her presence alone generates open looks for teammates.
Doubling Hillmon has been a risk that the Wolverines’ opponents have been willing to take so far this season, and it has left the 3-point arc wide open. Michigan has had plenty of open chances from range, taking 24 threes on Saturday against St. Francis Brooklyn, and another 20 threes last Tuesday against IUPUI. But the efficiency just hasn’t been there — the Wolverines are a combined 9-for-44 in their first two games.
“With the Big Ten Player of the Year returning, teams are going to double and triple-team Naz,” junior guard Maddie Nolan said. “So if we can knock down shots from the outside it’s going to be hard to guard, but also finding ways for Naz to score.”
Despite those shots not falling so far this season, Michigan’s offense has still looked dynamic. The Wolverines aren’t struggling to find ways for Hillmon to score. She has, unsurprisingly, been the main contributor on the offensive end. She shot a perfect 9-for-9 from inside the 3-point arc against St. Francis Brooklyn en route to a 19-point performance. She also poured in 30 points — her sixth such performance as a Wolverine — against IUPUI.
While Hillmon has been reliable, the 3-point shooting has not. The woes from downtown do not seem to be affecting Michigan’s confidence in its ability to convert from deep. After shooting 0-for-3 from range to open the season, Nolan showed flashes of potential as a sharpshooter against the Terriers, going 2-for-5 on 3-pointers.
“She’s been shooting the lights out,” senior forward Emily Kiser said. “I don’t feel like you guys have really fully seen it in games yet, but trust me it’s coming.”
In addition to waiting for Nolan’s breakout, the Wolverines are also missing their top perimeter player from last season: senior wing Leigha Brown, who is working her way back from a lower body injury. Brown was one of the main beneficiaries of Hillmon drawing doubles in the post last season, and as a result took 2.9 threes per game. Without Brown, these attempts have gone to less experienced players.
Michigan’s freshmen have received a lot of playing time early with injuries to Brown and senior guard Amy Dilk. They have not been able to capitalize on 3-point attempts, though, going 2-for-15 as a group so far this season. While there is always a learning curve when making a jump to the next level, subpar shooting from the freshmen means that the Wolverines haven’t been able to capitalize off of their open looks.
“They’re long, they’re athletic, they’re fast. They’ve definitely got a tremendous, tremendous upside,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “That being said, they don’t have a tremendous amount of experience, and they still are learning the game. So it’s nice to be able to bring them along with some upperclassmen showing them the way.”
Hillmon’s post presence is going to generate open looks on the perimeter for Michigan all season long. It’s whether the team can knock these shots down consistently, though, that remains to be seen.