After an underwhelming first two minutes of its matchup with Morgan State — consisting of three missed shots and a turnover — the Michigan women’s basketball team was in desperate need of a spark to get the ball rolling.
Then senior center Hallie Thome went down.
“Hallie hurt herself last week in the Oakland game, spasms in her back,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “She’s had them throughout her career. She’s kinda been able to work through them and I think she’s trying to do that now. … She tried to go out and see what she could do (today), but as a post player, you’re getting knocked and you’re getting banged all the time.”
Instead of collapsing after losing one of their senior leaders, though, the Wolverines (8-3) bounced back. Thome’s injury opened the door for freshman forward Naz Hillmon to enter the game, who quickly showed to be the piece Michigan had been missing at the start of the game, as she brought the energy, and offense, needed to overwhelm the Bears (1-10).
Hillmon rattled off layup after layup, and collected rebound after rebound, on her way to an eight-point, five-rebound first quarter.
“I think when I come in, the press that we put on brings a lot of energy,” Hillmon said. “That energy gives us a lot of confidence on the defensive and offensive end. We’re moving around a lot more and we’re getting movement and we’re trying to get each other touches so I think the change in defense really helps our offense as well.
When the Wolverines walked out onto the court for the start of the second half, it was Thome who put her warm-up shirt on and Hillmon who stepped onto the court, quelling any beliefs the senior may make another attempt at playing.
“I think it was probably Hallie’s decision (to sit),” Barnes Arico said. “She got checked out at halftime. There’s no need to go out there today. I think she tried her best to give it a shot, but once she got looked at during halftime, it was probably not in her best interest to go back out there.
“You could tell she was very uncomfortable. She was very nervous even at the start of the game. I think she did her best to try and give it a shot but she wasn’t able to, so she needs to just rest.”
Going forward, it is unclear to what extent Thome’s back will hinder her availability or effectiveness. However, what is clear is that Barnes Arico plans to make certain her center is fully healthy by the start of Big Ten conference play.
Both Hillmon and Barnes Arico believe that Thome adds experience and skill that Michigan will greatly miss for however long she is unable to play. While she is out, though, many young Wolverines will get extended playing time against weaker competition before things heat up in conference play.
“I think it just gives everyone experience,” Barnes Arico said. “We’re a young team. I was just saying on the radio that Hallie and Nicole (Munger) are our only really experienced players returning from last year. … So you take Hallie out of the mix, with her leadership and her ability to affect the game, we are really a young team, with a lot of freshmen and sophomores contributing a ton.
“So (today) was another opportunity for the young kids to learn. And we make mistakes for sure, but that’s a sign of our youth and inexperience. If (Thome's) out there, we probably don’t have as many mistakes. But the only way the young kids get better at that is through experience, so it was nice that they got the opportunity.”